Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has reason to be satisfied with the reception she received in Lucknow on Monday as she made her formal entry into the UP electoral battlefield as AICC general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh. Considering who she is, and the fact that she has more charisma than any other political figure around, such an
enthusiastic reception would have been hers even if she weren't holding formal office. The point, however, is how she plots her party's success from now on.
The decks are stacked against her. The constituencies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Yogi Adityanath are in eastern UP. Also, the areas of influence of the Samajwadi Party too lie in this part of the state. The SP is fundamentally a caste-oriented party and the Congress, even with Priyanka heading the Lok Sabha campaign, will find it difficult to breach its caste strongholds.
However, even in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, in which the BJP won 71 out of 80 seats in UP, the Congress was able to pick up around 18 per cent of the voteshare in eastern UP, which was credible.
Observers are generally agreed that the Congress has a following distributed across UP, especially in the eastern region. Some of its traditional voters went over to the BJP in 2014 when they realised their party was not in the reckoning due to the polarised communal politics being played and the dissatisfaction with the UPA government. Besides Muslim voters, they didn't seem to be of a mind to go with either the SP or the BSP.
Ms Vadra will have to find the right tactics on the ground to leverage the available positive factors. To do so, she needs to appeal to all castes and classes, which is the Congress' credo, and hope that some dalit groups also respond to her rather than back the BSP.
There is talk that the BJP is somewhat rattled by Priyanka's entry. The same is being said to some extent of the BSP-SP electoral alliance, as a result of which the latter is believed to be contemplating an unspoken electoral understanding with the Congress for some seats. However, it’s too early to rely on such reports. We will know better as the campaign led by Ms Vadra picks up, especially in rural areas.
BSP supremo Mayawati, unlike the SP, sees the Congress as her party’s long-term competition. Unlike SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, the BSP chief may be expected to be hostile to the Congress. The ground beneath Ms Vadra's feet is slippery, and she has to manage not just the parliamentary election but also prepare her party for the Assembly polls of 2022.
That cause will be helped if the Congress can somewhat surprise its detractors now....