By Kalyani Shankar
The buzz in the Congress circles is that the AICC General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra might make her electoral debut by contesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi. The Congress leadership is tight lipped about it although she herself has kept the mystery alive. When party workers in Rae Bareli recently urged Priyanka to stand for elections, she responded by asking if she should contest from Varanasi. Reports that Congress could field Priyanka from Varanasi have been doing the rounds since the last few days. The party on Saturday said that it would not comment on hearsay and that media would be informed if any such decision were taken.
The question is will she take the electoral plunge? It has taken so many years for her to enter politics. The Gandhi family is very cautious about when to enter politics and from where to contest. The family is quite calculative about these matters. These things are choreographed well. Even Sonia Gandhi took seven years to decide and she took the plunge only in 1998 when the party was almost withering away and needed a charismatic leadership. She was bold enough to come to politics when the party was languishing in the opposition with no chances of immediate revival. Though she entered the electoral fray in 1999 and became the first woman Leader of Opposition, she took on the BJP on issues despite being a novice in politics. She developed a reasonable understanding with the Prime Minister Vajpayee. Sonia surprised everyone by gobbling up the UPA and also came to power for two consecutive terms shattering the BJP’s “India shining” dreams.
Similarly, Rahul Gandhi entered politics in 2004 and contested and won Amethi, the family bastion. He has been in politics since then and he was made the General Secretary in 2007 and the Vice President in 2013. He took over as the president of the party in December 2017. This will be the first time he will be leading the party to the polls and therefore it is crucial that he does well.
Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into politics was also a calculated move and the timing was a surprise though there has been demand for her in the party for many years. Seen as the more charismatic leader than Rahul Gandhi, it was speculated that she was not coming into politics for fear of overshadowing her brother. Anyway now that Sonia Gandhi has decided to take a back seat, Priyanka has taken the plunge.
The decision to contest is entirely left to the family. Whether it is a good move to field all the three Gandhis is a question the family will consider. The chorus from U.P is becoming shrill day by day. Party leaders and workers from Uttar Pradesh argue the move will enhance the Congress’s poll prospects across the country.
Priyanka’s electoral debut has been talked about for long. Initially it was believed that if Sonia Gandhi bowed out, she would contest from Rae Bareli. The party’s Allahabad unit had passed a formal proposal urging the Congress leadership to field Priyanka from Phulpur, which was represented by her great grandfather and India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This might still happen, as Priyanka is likely to fare better in Phulpur. Defeating Modi might be difficult as he is still popular in Varanasi. Also traditionally, barring once in 2004, BJP has won Varanasi comfortably since 1991.
Then came the speculation strengthened by Priyanka herself.
Responding to a frequently asked question whether she would contest, Priyanka surprised the media with a direct “ why not’ “Even you can “ and added, “If my party wants me to contest polls then I will definitely do so.” Congress workers believe with her striking resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi she would be a good vote catcher. Priyanka is more connected to the people in her interactions and she is a crowd puller.
A section in the party believes that if Priyanka contests from Varanasi, Modi can be pinned won to Varanasi. Secondly, since there is no Modi wave, it might be easier for Priyanka to face him. Thirdly, about four lakh votes were split against Modi in 2014. If Priyanka is fielded as a joint candidate of the Congress, SP, BSP and RLD, the division of votes could be avoided. Fourthly, she would be a fresh face with the Gandhi mystique. The party has not announced any name so far for both Varanasi and Phulpur.
Incidentally, both Rahul and Priyanka are building the ground for 2022 Assembly polls. The party wants to project her as its chief ministerial candidate. “We are preparing the ground for 2022 Assembly elections,” Priynaka has clarified.
Prime Minister Modi ‘s response to Priyanka contesting against him is: “In democracy, anyone can contest from anywhere. I don’t fear about who are contesting from where, it doesn’t matter to me.”Modi versus Priyanka would be a tantalising contest but will the Congress risk it is a million dollar question. (IPA Service)