NEW DELHI: So the Congress is finally acknowledging that Priyanka Gandhi is very much in politics and calling the shots that matter such as being the chief negotiator in the critical alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Ahmed Patel, Congress leader and Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi is a taciturn politician who is known to speak rarely; he put out this carefully worded tweet:
“Wrong to suggest lightweights were dealing on behalf of Congress party. Discussions was at the highest level-b/w, CM, UP, GS I/C & Priyanka Gandhi.”
The fact that the party chose to unveil Priyanka Gandhi’s central role in the negotiations suggests that she will assume a formal and bigger role in the party sooner rather than later. And that, in accepting the demand of party workers, Sonia Gandhi has conceded to Priyanka Gandhi’s long -awaited and delayed entry in to politics. While, the contours of her role are known only to the family, a significant fact is that Priyanka Gandhi missed a family vacation to negotiate the alliance with Yadav along with Ghulam Nabi Azad who is in charge of handling UP.
And contrary to media reports, the alliance with the Samajwadi Party was never down to the wire. Both parties were grandstanding for their cadre. A senior Congress leader involved with the negotiations revealed, “We know who planted stories that Akhilesh Yadav did not take phone calls from the Gandhi family. Nothing like this happened. No breakdown in communication happened. Such stories only suit a certain party. In fact, Priyanka-ji spoke to Akhilesh Yadav at 11:30 pm and also to his wife Dimple Yadav and they were joking about the fact that he was not taking her calls. It was then that the decision to announce the alliance today was taken. Both wanted to enjoy proving the spin wrong.”
Priyanka, say sources, has been working behind the scenes for a while now. She has her own office and Rahul Gandhi’s erstwhile aide Kanishka Singh is a part of it. But this is the first time that the party has accepted the primacy of her role. Priyanaka’s will be one of the main faces of the joint campaign along with Dimple Yadav who reportedly came up with the “free pressure cooker” for women feature in her husband’s manifesto.
Dimple also seems to have come into her own after Akhilesh’s rebellion and shared the stage with him at the manifesto release of the Samajwadi Party while father-in-law Mulayam Singh was absent. The joint campaign for Priyanka Gandhi and her is planned along the lines of “naari shakti” to take on Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati. Priyanka is likely to be deployed as “star prackrak” across all of UP rather than confined to the Amethi- Raebareli belt as in the past. This is expected to boost the very dejected Congress cadre which stands greatly depleted. In fact, in one district, a Congress office also doubles up as a cow shed; in another, a tea stall is ironically called “Pappu tea stall” (Pappu being the derogatory nickname given to Rahul Gandhi by the BJP). The cadre across the UP have long been demanding Priyanka’s entry into formal politics and she will take on Modi and the BJP with fiery speeches, say Congress sources. Earlier, the complaint was that she was used only for campaigning. Priyanka is expected to address that head-on, saying that she will now be there for keeps as her children have grown up and the country needs to be saved from Modi.
It is expected that Rahul Gandhi who has been chairing Congress Working Committee (CWC) meetings will be anointed President while Priyanka will either take on his role of Vice-President or serve as General Secretary in charge of UP after the crucial assembly elections. Sonia Gandhi, who has been the longest serving president of the party, has made apparent her desire to retire and hand over the baton. Says a senior leader who has worked with Priyanka Gandhi “She’s very aggressive politically, takes quick decisions. It was apparent to her that without an alliance, the Congress was looking at single-digit figures and an utter wipe-out in UP. She took the initiative to reach out to Akhilesh and sought the alliance. Yadav Jr had earlier publicly expressed a desire for an alliance but UP state leaders panicked at what it implied for them, and tried to sabotage it. She knows UP and remembers workers from virtually every district.”
While this may be the hyperbole that the Congress party keeps feeding itself, Priyanka does seem to have better political instincts than her brother and enjoys a huge crowd connect on account of her charismatic ease with people.
If the SP-Congress alliance had not happened, Mayawati or the BJP would have gained an advantage with the division of the confused minority vote. With the alliance in place, Akhilesh Yadav and the Gandhis hope to secure the minority vote and also a section of the upper-caste vote which is still with the Congress. Akhilesh Yadav will now be the joint Chief Ministerial candidate.
This is important especially because the BJP is going into the elections minus a Chief Ministerial face and banking entirely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and star campaigners including Rajnath Singh, Kalyan Singh, Yogi Adityanath and Nitin Gadkari. Excluded are local MPs like Murli Manohar Joshi and Varun Gandhi who, as reported in an earlier column here had refused to campaign outside of his constituency of Sultanpur. The BJP has put all its eggs in the Modi and demonitisation basket and in a calculated insult, has dropped the original Ram Mandir charioteer LK Advani from its list of star campaigners.