Priyanka faces tough challenges in U.P

Brij Bhardwaj

Entry or exit of majority of people in politics at best causes a ripple, but yesterday when the entry of Priyanka Gandhi was announced it caused a storm if not a Tsunami in Indian politics. Reason is clear, her entry was most awaited event and is expected to change the political scene in U.P, the largest state in India which sends eighty members to the Lok Sabha. BJP won a majority on its own in 2014 by winning 71 seats.

Before Priyanka announced her entry, it was expected to be a straight fight between BJP on one hand and SP-BSP combine on the other. The Congress Party had been given two seats of Raibareli and Amethi. A position which could have led to virtual exit of Congress from the largest state in India. A position not acceptable to Congress Party. The entry of Priyanka will lead to entry of a third force and a revival of the Congress Party.

The factors in her favour are that she is coming at a time when party has received a fresh dose of strength by winning Assembly poll in three States in Hindi heartland. Her brother with his showing in Gujarat poll and recent Assembly poll has clearly established his position and proved his credentials to lead the party. As such entry of Priyanka will be seen as a booster for Congress party and not a rival of
Rahul Gandhi.

As a campaigner Priyanka can compare with anyone. She has charm, wit and strong resemblance with her grandmother. During her limited campaign she has shown that she has capacity to win over audiences in general and women in particular. Leaving aside her appeal to audience who in the past were part of the Congress, she also has ability to select candidates and associates who could help her to rebuild Congress party in U.P.

As she has been made incharge of Eastern U.P, she will have to match with top leaders of BJP like Chief Minister of U.P Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In the past this region has been divided on caste basis as such she would be on test if this has to be changed. It is a matter of debate whom will she damage more, but the fact remains she will have to find space for Congress by damaging both players.

If Congress emerges as a third force in UP it will automatically attract minority and Upper caste and Brahmins who are neglected at present. Agree time at the disposal of Priyanka Gandhi is short as elections are due after three months only, but she will certainly leave her stamp on it even if she is unable to change the outcome. In politics they say even a week is a long time not to speak of three months.

There are two options for SP-BSP. They could join forces with Congress and thus improve their ability to fight BJP with the objective of defeating Narendra Modi or fight separately and hope for a post-poll alliance. They are no more in a position to ignore Congress. It is in the field with Priyanka Gandhi in East U.P and JyotiradityaScindia in the West. If Congress Party is able to get even 10 seats in UP it will make a big difference as party will be able to make it clear that it remains a force in U.P which sets the tune in Hindi belt.

By bringing out Priyanka at this stage, the Congress party cadre will find one more charismatic leader to follow who will be able to share burden with her brother Rahul Gandhi. The task of building Congress which had been under the onslaught of Modi-Shah who were keen to make India free of Congress party is not easy. The BJP has stopped talking of Congress free Bharat, one could hope soon they would recognise it as alternative force. As two national parties help in making democracy work better. At present declared aim of the opposition parties is to remove Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they have become threat to democracy and are destroying institutions. This can be done by fighting unitedly to avoid division of opposition vote and not by growing at expense of each other.

If BJP remains strong in Hindi belt, it will not be possible to defeat them even if regional parties are able to defeat them in their respective States. Congress which at present is a major force in six States and an alternative to BJP can be built around it and not by excluding it. Choice before regional parties is either to join hands with BJP or Congress. As in the past a stable Government can be run only by a strong alliance. Regional parties on their own is not practical at present.

(Brij Bhardwaj is a veteran journalist and commentator)

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