Like her or don't, one has to admit that in the recent past Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been successful in grabbing eyeballs and the headlines.
From her fight to meet the families of the victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident to Wednesday's incident where she argued with the authorities to meet the family of a man who died while in the custody of Uttar Pradesh Police in Agra, the Congress leader has been everywhere and one can't argue that she's been winning the game of optics.
However, as the populous state of Uttar Pradesh prepares for the Assembly elections next year, will this translate into the votes for the Congress or will it face another disappointing result at the ballot box?
UP political arena
First off, let’s take a look at where the parties stand in the state.
In 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies registered a massive win of 320 seats in the 403-seat Uttar Pradesh Assembly.
The Samajwadi Party-Congress Alliance were able to bag only 54 seats, an embarrassment for the two parties.
In fact, the last significant electoral outing for the Congress in Uttar Pradesh Assembly election happened in 1989. In the past seven election cycles over 32 years, the Congress has never breached the 50-mark in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls.
Priyanka adds firepower
As of date, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has aced the optics part of the poll battle.
Her detention by the UP Police, her subsequent meeting with the families of the farmers killed in Lakhimpur Kheri, her rally in Varanasi and lastly, the meeting with the family of a man who died while in the custody of Uttar Pradesh Police in Agra has all helped in generating a great deal of buzz in the media and also on social media.
When she argued with the authorities as she tried to make her way to Lakhimpur Kheri, many said that she evoked memories of her grandmother – Indira Gandhi.
Her feistiness and determination were praised and the fact that she was able to show empathy and compassion to the kin of the victims made people sit up and take notice of her.
— UP Congress (@INCUttarPradesh) October 4, 2021
Similarly on Wednesday too, when she Arun Valmiki's relatives, she put on display a ‘soft, empathetic’ woman leader. She also announced a Rs 30 lakh financial assistance and legal help for Valmiki's family.
अरुण वाल्मीकि के परिवार को न्याय दो। pic.twitter.com/z1J6sJJ3BK
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) October 20, 2021
Besides her confrontations with the state administration, Priyanka has also garnered buzz by announcing that the party has decided to allow women to contest 40 percent of the seats in the upcoming Assembly elections. Speaking on the decision, Priyanka at a press conference said, “Had I had my way, I would have given 50 percent tickets to them,” adding that there is no hidden meaning behind it. “We want women in politics to become full-fledged partners in power.”
The AICC general secretary said women will have to come forward if the country has to be taken forward on the path of equality and participation and has to be pulled out of the politics of caste and religion. “Women will have to do this themselves,” she said. “Political parties think they can please women only by giving gas cylinders and Rs 2,000,” she said taking a dig at BJP’s welfare schemes.
It has also been reported that she has announced smartphones for inter-pass girls and electronic scooty for graduate girls if the Congress is voted to power in UP.
Congress on UP ground
Priyanka has tried hard to put the party’s house in order at the state level. She brought in ‘street-fighter’ Ajay Kumar Lallu as the UP Congress chief. Political experts say that Lallu is quite adept at cobbling together political equations and has a presence with the cadre on the ground.
Priyanka has also tried to train Congress workers for new-age political campaigns. However, it won't be easy as the cadres are used to the old ways and this new mindset will take time to change.
Another big issue facing the Congress is that doesn't have a social base. It doesn't have any core vote bank, like Upper castes and a section of OBCs for the BJP, Yadavs and a major chunk of Muslims for the Samajwadi Party, and Jatavs for the BSP.
Engineering this will be no easy feat and that too in the short period of time before the elections.
UPCC chief Ajai Kumar Lallu himself accepts the party is facing many challenges in the state. “Reviving the organisation at the grass-root level, making the party leaders at district level realise their worth as Congress workers and increasing the visibility of Congress as an organisation in UP’s political arena are to count a few,” he was quoted as saying as per a New Indian Express report.
The party is also riddled with in-fighting and squabbles among the leaders. AICC secretary Imran Masood, as recently as 30 September, openly praised the Samajwadi Party.
Moreover, Priyanka Gandhi's advisor former MLA Harendra Malik and vice-president Pankaj Malik have quit the party. According to sources, the father-son duo is expected to join the Samajwadi Party.
It has been learnt that after resigning from the Congress party, Harendra Malik accused people close to Priyanka Gandhi of hijacking the party.
There is also another criticism within the leaders, with one section alleging that they have no access to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. They accuse PCC chief Ajay Kumar Lallu and a few other leaders like Rampur Khas MLA Aradhana Misra of completely blocking access to Priyanka Gandhi, causing other leaders to feel sidelined.
There's also the fact that some leaders find her unapproachable and also a bit arrogant and say that she has no experience in fighting an election or handling the organisation of the state unit.
It’s clear — Priyanka may be appear to be a competitor to the BJP in the state, but till the issues on the ground aren’t corrected, the Congress’ chances in the state remain bleak.