As Priyanka Gandhi, the AICC General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, steps into the 50th or the Golden Jubilee year of her birth on January 12, 2021, she is straddled with an onerous responsibility. That is, to revive a moribund party in Uttar Pradesh, where it lost power exactly three decades ago, in 1989.
For the first time in recent years, Congress has been seen on the streets in Uttar Pradesh, with the State BJP Government of Yogi Adityanath giving away issues on the platter. The plight of the Migrant Workers walking hundreds of miles to reach their homes and mounting crimes against women, as seen in the recent gangrape and brutality meted out to the 20-year-old woman in Hathras and the 50-year-old woman in Badayun, making anyone hang their heads in shame.
Surprisingly, the Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati have taken a political backseat.
Both BSP and SP are seen playing ball with BJP, leaving the Opposition space blank.
BSP leader Mayawati supported the BJP in passing the Triple Talaaq Bill in Parliament that criminalized Triple Talaaq and supported the Modi Government on the virtual Abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution that confers Special Status on Jammu & Kashmir.
SP leader Akhilesh Yadav has tacitly backed the Modi Government on the issues.
In recent months, Priyanka Gandhi has been leading from the front, making an outreach to the Minorities, Dalits, Students, and Farmers, all under fire of the Modi Government. Her well-planned and well-orchestrated moves helped to bring back spring in the pace of the Congressmen in Uttar Pradesh.
Through a series of moves, Priyanka Gandhi is showcasing the Congress as a bankable option, after Bahujan Samaj Party of Mayawati and Samajwadi Party of Akhilesh Yadav have shown signs of dumping Minorities, Dalits, Students and Farmers.
Seizing the moment, when the BSP and SP Duo of Bua-Bhatija were basking in the sunshine of Modi dispensation, Priyanka Gandhi has made some quick moves. This helped the party to find its space in the largest Hindi Heartland-State of Uttar Pradesh, where it had lost out badly, in the wake of Mandal and Kamandal politics taking the political centre stage since 1989.
When, on the Allahabad High Court intervention, Dr Kafeel Khan was freed from jail after he was booked under the National Security Act for his speech at Aligarh Muslim University on Anti-CAA protests, Priyanka Gandhi shifted him to the Congress-ruled Rajasthan. This was done, amid fears of his imminent rearrest on framed-up charges.
Mathura Congress leader Pradeep Mathur was outside Mathura Jail to receive Dr Kafeel Khan after his release. Dr Kafeel Khan has moved to Jaipur, where he has been assured protection. Besides, Congress is also bearing the expense for the stay of Dr Kafeel Khan in Jaipur.
Under a strategy driven by Priyanka, the Congress had earlier launched a sustained campaign across several districts of UP, demanding the release of Dr Kafeel Khan. This included signature campaign, hunger strikes, visits to Dargahs and blood donation camps in the name of Dr Kafeel Khan.
Similarly, during the protests against the UP Police bid to shield the culprits of the horrific gangrape and murder of a Dalit girl in Hathras, Priyanka, accompanied by Rahul Gandhi, made valiant attempts and succeeded in reaching out, amid dramatic circumstances, to the victim’s family, when the UP Police isolated the family.
During the protests against the Hathras issue, Priyanka Gandhi got down from her car on DND Express Way, when the UP Police launched the lathi-charge on the Youth Congress workers.
The lathi blows could have hit her, but her presence of mind to be in their midst boosted the confidence in the Congress Workers.
Again, during the Corona Virus pandemic Lockdown, Priyanka organized lorries from the neighboring Congress-ruled Rajasthan, to transport the Migrant Workers to their homes. Although the BJP Government in Uttar Pradesh did not avail of the facility, it did send out a strong signal all across.
Once again, when the JEE-NEET Exams were being conducted in the midst of the pandemic, Priyanka spoke for the Students.
On the Farmers issue, Priyanka Gandhi courted arrest in the Capital on December 24, 2020. While on way to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to meet and present the memorandum to the President, she was detained and taken to the Mandir Marg Police Station in the Capital.
Priyanka Gandhi said, “Any dissent against this Government is classified as having elements of terror. We are undertaking this march to voice our support for the farmers. We are living in a democracy and they are elected MPs. They have the right to meet the President and they should be allowed. What is the problem with that?”
Realizing that the revival of the Congress at the national level impinges on the party revival in the largest Heartland-State of Uttar Pradesh, the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi inducted Priyanka Gandhi as AICC General Secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh, just ahead of the General Election in 2019.
Although the time was all too short to bring about any visible changes during the parliamentary elections in 2019, the idea was to entrust her with the responsibility to rebuild the party organization.
The party organization had collapsed, over the years. No elections can be won, unless the party puts in place an organizational structure.
What is worse, the party’s traditional vote base suffered a three-way split. The Muslim vote shifted to the Samajwadi Party, the Dalit vote to the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Upper-Caste vote to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The task on hand is three-fold. One is to rebuild the party organizational structure. Two, reconnect with the traditional vote bank. Three, to attract new sections of society to the party.
The Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) was an unwieldy body, with over 500 Executive Committee members. No role, responsibility, or accountability could be fixed.
After revamping the UPCC, the Executive Committee has been scaled down to 55 members. Each member has been assigned a specific role and responsibility. A target has been set to ensure Congress workers in each of the 7,000 villages in Uttar Pradesh. The idea is to strengthen the organizational structure in Uttar Pradesh.
Without party workers in place, the party cannot stage agitations and cannot forge ahead.
The larger issue confronting Congress is to emerge as a viable alternative to the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, in order to take on the BJP.
SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav formed Government with BJP support in 1989 in Uttar Pradesh, while V P Singh came to power at the Centre the same year with the support of the BJP. BSP formed Government in Uttar Pradesh with BJP.
The SP and BSP cannot provide a genuine Anti-BJP front in Uttar Pradesh. The Congress is eyeing this space. Only the UP Assembly elections in 2022 will show how successful will be Congress.
Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.
Views expressed are personal