Priyanka Gandhi's Lakhimpur Caper Flags Off Congress's UP Poll Campaign

Priyanka Gandhi’s Lakhimpur Caper Flags Off Congress’s UP Poll Campaign

It’s clear that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has stolen a march over her political adversaries with her always-first strike rate. Not only did she manage to reach closest to the eye of the storm in Lakhimpur, where eight people died and several others were injured on Sunday in the bloodiest clash since the farmers’ protest over the Centre’s agri laws began last year, but with her repeated video releases, and photo ops like sweeping the floor of her guest house where she is being, Priyanka has managed to remain in focus. Unlike brother Rahul, Priyanka is more media savvy and clearly understands what grabs eyeballs. And political observers feel it doesn’t look contrived. LIVE updates

For a party that is accused of armchair activism and laziness, Congress leaders are now up and about in a show of solidarity to Priyanka. From Chattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel who tried to visit Lakhimpur twice to his Punjab counterpart Charanjit Singh Channi who sat on the streets of Chandigarh to more protests in other parts of the country, it’s clear that Priyanka is at the epicentre of the Lakhimpur story right between the grieving families. This brings to the point the timing of the incident. It comes very close to the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections and Congress is hoping public memory remains fresh and Priyanka will help the party milk the incident. Another important question is – Will Priyanka be the Congress’s face in UP?

Congress in UP today is mired in desertions, failing fortunes and a weak organisation. It also has no leader who, in profile, can match up to Akhilesh Yadav or Yogi Adityanath. Priyanka, many feel, can do so. Congress, however, is in two minds. With the party unlikely to form a government in the state, Priyanka as the CM face would only reduce her stature or charisma in the party. But on the other hand, she is not keen to be on the back foot. When asked about this, Baghel, who has also been appointed as the observer for the state polls, said: “Priyanka will be the face of our party in the polls. After this incident, she has emerged as Durga.” Interesting choice of words considering religion plays a deep role in UP polls with the BJP pitching for the Ram Mandir as its trump card.

Priyanka, with her image of a fighter, the understanding to play to the gallery (On video, she swept the floor of the guest house), constant engagement with people through her social media handles, it’s clear she wants to be in the thick of the game. Sources also say that those who accuse her and Congress of entering the UP maidan late when the SP has already begun preparations for the polls, Priyanka has the wherewithal to turn the game on its head. “We may have been late but it’s the right time. Priyanka is our only hope in UP. This has enthused party workers and will benefit us not just in UP but also in other states where polls are coming up.”

Alliances and dalliances

This brings up another pertinent question – Will Priyanka’s rise and her face being projected as the Congress face in UP be at the cost of the Akhilesh Yadav and SP relationship?

It’s interesting that as the focus was on Priyanka and Congress when they reached closest to the spot first, Akhilesh could not move beyond Lucknow. In fact, Congress said, “While Akhilesh was let go, Priyanka has been arrested.” The strategy is clear – It’s a barb at SP with whom Congress has had a bitter falling out. And it also rests the rumours that Congress was opting out of the UP race to make things easy for Akhilesh. In Bengal and specifically Bhabanipur bypolls, the Congress’s go-easy strategy has cost the party’s image. It’s felt that this should not be repeated in UP. But lacking a strong organisation, it’s unlikely that Congress may reap huge benefits in the polls. But if it’s able to increase its vote margin, it would help it in remaining in the game not just in UP but elsewhere too.

But this ‘rise’ of Congress and Priyanka could end up helping the BJP. It will certainly cut the anti-BJP votes and this would eventually help the BJP in the polls. When asked this to IP Singh, the SP UP president, he said, “No way. We have been everywhere and we aren’t going slow and nor is Congress a winner here.” But as pictures of Akhilesh Yadav sitting in his office in Lucknow spread on social media, the Congress leaders who have been accused of being lazy have a reason to be smug. A Priyanka Gandhi Vadra in the guest house, they hope, could open up their chances.

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