Opinion: Priyanka Gandhi emerges as main challenger in UP 

Venkat Parsa

Ladki hun, lad sakti hun (I am a Girl, I can fight). This is the slogan of Priyanka Gandhi for the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in early 2022. 

With a new slogan and a new brand of politics, bringing governance issues to the forefront, Priyanka has signalled that she stands shoulder-to-shoulder with women in the upcoming UP Assembly elections. 

While women are victims of violence and injustice, youth are jobless. She is trying to bring the focus back on women and youth, who are both pushed to the margins under the current political dispensation. 

MS Education Academy

Positioning the Congress as the main challenger for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi has unveiled an 8-Point Programme, focussing on governance issues, rather than the caste and communal issues.  

Priyanka sees this also as the way to break the caste and communal stranglehold on politics. The idea is to make politics more people-centric. The idea is to bring real governance issues onto the political centre stage.  

Women Empowerment  

Priyanka got this new slogan from her interactions with the families of victims of the horrendous, barbaric rape cases in Unnao and Hathras; Badaun gangrape and murder; killing of Adivasis in Sonbhadra and mowing down of peacefully protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. She has been instantly reaching out to the families of the victims and interacting with them. After each such interaction, her constant refrain is, “We will fight for justice.”  

There is an expectation that this slogan may resonate with 50 per cent of the population. The reason is not far to seek. In every district of Uttar Pradesh, on average, there are over 20 First Information Reports (FIRs) on crimes against women.  

This, in turn, raises the issue of the rate of convictions. Police Stations, the State Assembly and the decision-making body like bureaucracy, are all male-dominated.  

Unless women’s presence is raised in these forums, it is difficult to get justice for them. Priyanka has caught on to the idea that women have to enter the State Legislature in large numbers and assert themselves, in order to change the situation on the ground.  

Priyanka wants women to turn lawmakers to script the social change that they visualize. It is against such a backdrop that she came up with the idea of 40 per cent of party tickets for women to contest the upcoming UP Assembly elections. 

With her grand announcement of 40 per cent of Congress tickets for women candidates, she has a two-fold purpose. She is trying, not only to reach out to the women with her message of empowerment but, she is also trying to mobilize them at the political level, in their fight for justice.  

Priyanka is targeting women, who not only constitute 50 per cent of the population but bear the brunt of violence and injustice.  

As a result of her decision, 161 women will be fielded by Congress in 403 UP Assembly constituencies in the upcoming elections in 2022. This is against the 11 women candidates fielded by Congress in the 2017 UP Assembly elections, where only two women won.  

New Political Paradigm  

Priyanka Gandhi has come up now with a new political plank and a new approach to politics that has so far been dominated by caste and communal mobilization. She has shown that she has the courage of her convictions and new confidence to take on the established political class on the strength of her connect with the suffering masses. 

It is an interesting paradigm that she has introduced in the highly caste-based and communal-based politics of Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka has brought in a new brand of politics, not witnessed anywhere and in any part of the country, earlier. Indeed, it is a new experiment. It remains to be seen how it will work on the ground.  

8-Point Agenda  

Her 8-Point Programme seeks to target Women, who constitute 50 per cent and Youth, who comprise a major chunk of the population. If her experiment in Uttar Pradesh succeeds, her brand may well become a model at the national level for Congress. 

Her 8-Point Agenda have sent soaring high hopes and expectations among the people about her new brand of politics. Her 8-Point Agenda is wholly people-centric. 

1) 40 per cent Congress tickets to women in UP Assembly polls  

2) Giving free Smartphones and E-Scooters for Girls 

3) Full Farm Loan-Waiver 

4) 20 lakh Government Jobs for Youth 

5) Electricity Bill for Farmers to be halved, plus no electricity bills to be levied during the pandemic period 

6) Rs 25,000 assistance to Covid-affected families 

7) Minimum Support Price (MSP) of Rs 2,500 per quintal for rice and Rs 400 per quintal for sugarcane 

8) Free medical treatment and healthcare facilities up to Rs 10 lakh.  

All these issues relate to Women, Youth, Farmers and the common people, who suffered the most during the recent Corona Virus pandemic. It brought into sharp focus the need for a robust public healthcare architecture that can provide cover to the most needy.  

Her agenda was framed and formulated on the basis of the intensive tours she undertook across Uttar Pradesh in the last two years.  

Proactive Role  

Priyanka Gandhi was entrusted with the charge of Uttar Pradesh ahead of the parliamentary elections in 2019. Time was all too short to show any results.  

Soon after the Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka undertook an intensive tour and personal meetings with the people of Uttar Pradesh. 

She interacted with women and girls, with Mallas and Nishads during her Boat Yatra from Allahabad to Varanasi, with youth, farmers and the general public.  

Priyanka remained in the midst of suffering masses, showing solidarity with them. When Dr Kafeel Khan, a doctor in Gorakhpur Hospital, was booked under the stringent National Security Act (NSA) for his speech in Aligarh on Citizenship Amendment Act and jailed, the Congress was out on the streets and helped him in his legal battle. When the Allahabad High Court ordered his release, Priyanka arranged for his job in Jaipur in the Congress-ruled Rajasthan. 

Priyanka Gandhi and Dr Kafeel Khan

When SP leader Akhilesh Yadav and BSP leader Mayawati were resting at home, Priyanka organized buses for Migrant Workers walking on foot to reach their homes. The Yogi Adityanath Government in Uttar Pradesh refused to use the buses arranged by Priyanka Gandhi for transporting Migrant Workers back to their homes. 

Party Restructuring  

Priyanka held brainstorming sessions, based on which she restructured the party organization in the State.  

Priyanka combined her visits with intensive personal interactions, alongside of her addressing public meetings for a wider outreach 

The jumbo-sized party bodies at the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) level were trimmed, including in it the ground level party workers, thus making the Congress party battle-fit in Uttar Pradesh.  

At the District Congress Committee (DCC) level, meaningful responsibility and charge was assigned to each of the DCC Executive Committee members. The idea was to ensure that each and every member included in the body knows the role he or she has to play and the tasks to carry out. Priyanka ensured that inclusion into party bodies was not a mere decorative post, but entailed serious hard work to revive the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. 

It was with such a painstaking exercise that Priyanka managed to resurrect a moribund party in Uttar Pradesh, which has been in limbo ever since Congress lost power in 1989. After 30 years down the line, in 2019, Priyanka Gandhi set in motion a sustained exercise to resurrect and revive the Congress in Uttar Pradesh and prepare it for the upcoming electoral battle in 2022.  

Upsetting the Applecart  

Arraigned against her are Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP, who has the backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi; Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav, who has the legacy of party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav; and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati, who commands Dalit vote bank. 

While her political opponents have a political legacy to back up, Priyanka is setting out with a brand new political experiment. If it succeeds in UP, Congress may well replicate it all over the country.  

Clearly, Priyanka Gandhi is out to upset the apple cart of the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in early 2022. She is doing this on strength of her newfound connect with the suffering masses.  

The SP and BSP have considered Uttar Pradesh as their fiefdom. During the Corona Virus pandemic, neither Akhilesh Yadav nor Mayawati bothered to come forward to help the people. For four-and-a-half years, they lived in their cocoons and just before the UP Assembly elections, they chose to make public appearances, in the hope of taking advantage of anti-Incumbency and coming back to power. But, in these four-and-a-half years, the ground reality has changed radically.  

The Samajwadi Party’s Muslims-Yadavs (MY) vote bank and Bahujan Samah Party’s captive vote bank of Dalits has convinced Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati of riding back to power, effortlessly.  

After Priyanka Gandhi took Uttar Pradesh by storm, a defensive Samajwadi Party Spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari was forced to change tack and make a claim that MY stands for Mahila and Youth, and not Muslims-Yadavs, which was originally conceived by Mulayam Singh Yadav.  

Thanks to the efforts put in by Priyanka, for the first time, the Congress, which has been at the bottom of the ladder, has suddenly moved up, to emerge as the main challenger to the BJP in Uttar Pradesh.

Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.

Views expressed are personal

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