Opinion: Priyanka Gandhi on the front foot in UP

Venkat Parsa

Priyanka Gandhi has kicked off a political storm in the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh, paving the way for the emergence of the Congress as the principal Opposition party to the BJP. In a determined move, Priyanka has built up the Congress organizational base in Uttar Pradesh, besides creating a Congress-centric political narrative, in order to take on the ruling BJP led by UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.

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Priyanka has succeeded in creating waves in the largest Hindi-heartland State, ahead of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections. Following the surge in Covid cases, Priyanka Gandhi put on hold physical mega rallies, townhalls, samvads and marathons in the poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. Otherwise, she could have made greater impact on the ground.

In fact, Uttar Pradesh is witnessing a sea-change in its political landscape. Priyanka Gandhi is triggering change that is sweeping across the State. All over Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka is drawing responsive and cheering crowds.

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Ladki hun, lad sakti hun (I am a girl, but I can fight) has caught the imagination of women in Uttar Pradesh. This is the State where the Congress has been in wilderness for the last three dacades. The party’s mass-base has shrunk dramatically and where it’s organizational structure is in shambles. Yet, single-handedly, Priyanka took it up as a challenge to bring about an upswing in the political fortunes of the party.

Injecting new energy, Priyanka has brought in a new brand of politics that many in Uttar Pradesh are not familiar with. This brand of politics has not been witnessed before in the State. There is no hate, no venom against anyone. She is forging ahead on the basis of development agenda.

Particularly, Priyanka is mingling with girls and women, unveiling a new strategy. In a State largely divided on Mandir and Mandal issues, she has brought development back on the political centrestage. Apart from that, she is tapping on a new constituency, which has been largely ignored by different political parties.

Women Police personnel sent to detain Priyanka flock to get Selfies with Priyanka. On the Congress Foundation Day at the AICC headquarters at 24, Akbar Road in New Delhi, women Seva Dal volunteer rushed to Priyanka to pose for photos with her.

Apparently, people in general and, women in particular, are impressed by her honesty and sincerity of purpose. In the entire State, no other leader is more popular today than Priyanka Gandhi. Not since the times of Indira Gandhi has such a popular leader been seen like Priyanka Gandhi and especially in Uttar Pradesh.

As her Golden Jubilee Birthday falls on January 12, 2022, completing 50 years, Priyanka has quietly emerged from the shadows to establish herself as a leader in her own right.

With uncanny political determination, Priyanka has been moving around Uttar Pradesh for the past three years on the ground, sitting with people, partaking food from women out in the farms and the fields, walking into the homes of the common people, mingling with them and winning over their trust and confidence.

Congress versus BJP

Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati have never been known to meeting people, not to mention about mingling with them.

While Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati had been on an extended vacation for the last four-and-a-half years, credit goes to Priyanka Gandhi, soon after assuming charge as AICC General Secretary Incharge of Uttar Pradesh, for raising her voice for Women, Weaker Sections, Farmers, Dalits, Adivasis and Minorities. It is not political rhetoric but empathy for the suffering masses that comes across in her statements and speeches that really touch the hearts of the people.

See the stark and striking contrast. Samajwadi Party slogan is Aa Rahe Hain Akhilesh Ji. Where was Akhilesh Yadav when Farmers, Migrant Workers, Rape Victims and Sonbhadhra massacre victims were all traumatized? When Price-Rise, Farmers Agitation, Unemployment and Law and Order situation were hurting the people. It is not difficult to see through these kind of politics of the Third Front parties and leaders. Third Front parties also play casteist politics, which is as communal, as religion-based politics.

Now, Priyanka has managed to make it a contest between the Congress and the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, as the Samajwadi Party (SP) of Akhilesh Yadav and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Mayawati, lag behind.

When Dr Kafeel Khan was being hounded out in Uttar Pradesh, it was Priyanka Gandhi who rose to the occasion. Priyanka was in constant touch with Dr Kafeel Khan and his family, and helped them move to Rajasthan, after his release from Mathura Jail in Uttar Pradesh, also assuring them of safety under Congress Government in Rajasthan. Priyanka put the Congress into agitational mode on Dr Kafeel Khan arrest issue. When he was being released from Mathura Jail, senior Congress leader Pradeep Mathur was waiting outside the jail to escort Dr Kafeel Khan.

When Migrant Workers were walking back to their distant villages in far-off States, Priyanka deployed several buses for their use of Yogi Adityanath Government in Uttar Pradesh. She asked the UP Government to use the buses to transport the Migrant Workers safely to their States, but the State Government refused to act.

When farmers were undergoing the ordeal, it was Priyanka Gandhi, again, who was speaking for them. Priyanka mingles with women working in the farms to understand their problems and their issues, how they fare and whether or not they are able to educate their children.

Travelling across Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka is able strike a chord in every section of the society, as a majority of them are fleeced by price-rise, social tensions, absence of development and lack of avenues for individual and social advancement.

The Congress was pushed to the margins in Uttar Pradesh, since the party lost power in 1989. Now, after a lapse of over three decades, the party has once again become a talking point. Indeed, the Congress has bounced back into the political conversations in the State, signaling that the party is a serious player in the upcoming UP Assembly elections.

Paradigm Change

From Uttar Pradesh came the only woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Uttar Pradesh First women Chief Minister was Sucheta Kriplani. The first woman Uttar Pradesh Governor was Sarojini Naidu. But women power in the largest Hindi-heartland State is just negligible. It is to correct this imbalance that Priyanka Gandhi has come forward with 40 per cent reservation of party tickets for women to contest elections. This could provide the trigger for ushering in transformational changes in politics in Uttar Pradesh.

Priyanka has brought about a paradigm shift in Uttar Pradesh politics. By declaring 40 per cent reservation of party tickets for Women to contest polls in the upcoming UP Assembly elections, she has left her political opponents shell-shocked.

This is one large and untapped constituency and with her political masterstroke, she may well succeed in breaking the Mandir-Mandal jinx that helped the Saffron and Third Front parties to occupy the political centrestage for over three decades, pushing the Congress to the periphery.

Her targeting of women, who constitute 50 per cent population, and her sops for college-going girls like Smartphones and Scooties has enlarged her mass-base.

As a result, Priyanka has endeared herself to women across the board. College girls flock to her. Women in villages come to her in the fields and farms and share food with Priyanka.

In Uttar Pradesh villages, girls tell Priyanka how Smartphones and Scooties would help them in their education.

Political Forays

On the ground constantly, Priyanka is moving around in the midst of the people. Besides, Priyanka has launched an extensive outreach exercise. As part of her new outreach, Priyanka has addressed a massive rally in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency of Varanasi.

Similarly, she stormed Gorakhpur, considered a bastion of UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Her outreach to Nishads, with her boat ride from Allahabad to Varanasi, paid off political dividends.

Her forays in Western Uttar Pradesh have been highly successful, as was her high political pitch in the Bundelkhand region.

The Congress campaign is centred around Priyanka Gandhi, which is why it is evoking so much response from the people.

Pratigya Yatra

Priyanka Gandhi launched the Pratigya Yatra, reconnecting with the common people by raising their common concerns. This, neither the SP nor the BSP cares to raise. That is why, when Priyanka raises her voice, it resonates with the people.

Under the Pratigya Yatra, Congress Guarantee Cards are being reached to the common people, with a pledge to honour the promises made to the people.

Seven Promises in her Pratigya Yatra are:
(1) 40 per cent reservation of tickets for women in elections & Smartphones and Scooties for Girls
(2) Farm Loan Waiver
(3) Minimum Support Price for Rice and Wheat Rs 2500 and Rs 400 for Sugarcane
(4) Half Electricity Bills for All
(5) Full Waiver of Pending Electricity Bills for Covid period
(6) Rs 25,000 per year to Poor Families
(7) 20 lakh Government Jobs.

The Congress is looking to end the hegemony of the BJP and the Third Front parties, who managed to capitalize on the Mandir-Mandal divide. Priyanka has brought focus back on the more mundane and practical problems plaguing daily lives by harping on issues faced by the people and harking back to development agenda.

Gutsy Fighter
On the front foot, Priyanka Gandhi seized the moment and rushed instantaneously to Lakhimpur Kheri, after the gruesome tragedy of 8 farmers being mowed down under SUVs, to meet the family of the victims. On the way, she was detained in Sitapur, but on show was her grit when she engaged police officers in wordy duel over her illegal, indefensible, unjustified and unwarranted detention.

Clearly visible was her determination to fight on behalf of the victims for their justice. Onwards, she visited Baharaich, to meet the families of two farmers killed in Lakhimpur-Kheri.

Priyanka showed her gutsy self when, along with Rahul Gandhi, she was on her way to Hathras to meet family of the dastardly brutal rape victim and the police started lathicharge at Delhi-Noida Direct (DND) Flyover toll-gate. Immediately, Priyanka got down from her car and jumped to the rescue of Congress workers being lathicharged. Atmosphere was surcharged, but she never hesitated in taking the risk, as she could herself land the lathi-blows.

In Hathras, the victim was raped and brutalized, but when the Dalit girl passed away, her body was not given to the family for performing the last rites. Instead, at the dead of the night, the police quietly disposed of the body. Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi had both gone to meet the family members of the rape victim in Hathras.

Unnao rape case was most horrendous and outrageous. The victim’s father died in police detention and in a road accident, she lost two aunts, while she and her lawyer were left to battle for their lives; and, finally, she was set ablaze and the young woman succumbed to 90 per cent burn injuries. Priyanka Gandhi raised the pitch in this politically high-profile case, espousing the victim’s family fight for justice.

Similarly, after the Sonbadhra firing, in which at least 10 Gond Tribals lost their lives 24 others were injured in a land dispute, Priyanka Gandhi rushed there. But on the way, Priyanka was arrested and detained at Mirzapur Guest House. Family members of two victims came there to meet her.

Priyanka said, “My objective has been served as I have met the victims of Sonbhadra firing. I am still under detention, let’s see what the administration says. Congress party will give a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the person who died in the incident.”

In all such ghastly and gruesome cases, Priyanka Gandhi fought with passion and gusto, seeking justice for the victims, by upping the ante.

Priyanka has set the new norm. She is asking the people to hold the political leaders accountable. It is not making an appearance at the time of elections, making tall promises and doing the vanishing act, only to make a reappeance at the time of next elections.

This is not aimed merely at the BJP but even at the SP and the BSP. The SP is a classic case. Having been in power off and on since 1989, its leaders were never on the ground, with the people, when most needed.

That was the time, Priyanka was out on the ground, actively taking up the cause of the people, being in their midst and speaking up for them.

One may agree or disagree with Priyanka, but one cannot ignore Priyanka.  This is the strength of Priyanka’s brand of politics. And she is out on the ground for the Congress Revival in the largest Hindi-heartland State of Uttar Pradesh.

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

Views expressed are personal

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