One year of Priyanka Gandhi: What has changed in Congress

It has been a year since she formally joined politics and took up the task of reviving the party’s fortunes in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. But contrary to the expectations, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is yet to make any significant impact in the country’s most politically important state.

The Lok Sabha polls saw the grand old party lose its traditional bastion of Amethi from where Union minister Smriti Irani defeated the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The Congress managed to win just one seat with current Congress chief Sonia Gandhi retaining Rae Bareli.

There was also a growing chorus in the party that Priyanka Gandhi contest the Lok Sabha polls either from Varanasi or Allahabad but she decided to focus on campaigning and for the first time stepped out of the family bastion of Rae Bareli and Amethi – she had till then confined her role to the election management of these two constituencies only – to canvas for party candidates not only in UP but in other parts of the country as well.

After Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka Gandhi has kept her focus on UP. She has also been at the forefront of the party’s protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed pan-India National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise in a desperate bid to tap the anger of the youth, especially the students, against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government.

She has also raised the issues pertaining to the state and repeatedly attacked Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his government over law and order situation in UP, especially the alleged increase in the incidents of rapes.

Having been decimated in UP in the 2017 assembly elections and this year’s Lok Sabha polls, the Congress is struggling to make its presence felt in the state’s political landscape.

The grand old party had dominated the politics of UP till the emergence of Mandal-Mandir issues in late 1980s. Over the years, it has been relegated to political margins.

Priyanka Gandhi is seeing the anti-CAA protests as an opportunity for the Congress to gain some lost ground. The big challenge, however, for the Congress is to ensure that the prevailing anger and protests sustain at least for some time.

Reports of police excesses during the anti-CAA protests and the crackdown in the state, the Congress feels, provides the right moment for it to build a campaign against the Yogi government.

She has also kicked off her preparations for the 2022 assembly elections in the state. Launching Mission UP 2022, she directed party leaders to compile the data of Dalits, Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Muslims in each of the 403 assembly constituencies in the state to know the caste composition.

The project was initiated following assessment that these sections are disillusioned with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) in view of their alleged subdued response to the CAA and the NRC.

UP Congress leaders claim that Priyanka Gandhi’s outreach to Dalits and Muslims has rattled BSP chief Mayawati, who has in the past some days consistently attacked the party’s top leadership.

Priyanka Gandhi has also sought a report on the impact on her party due to its alliance with the SP in the 2017 assembly polls. The Congress registered its worst ever performance in the last assembly elections in UP despite having a tie-up with the SP. It bagged just seven seats.

One of the reasons identified then was the failure on the part of the two parties to transfer their votes.

Priyanka Gandhi has activated the party on the ground by reorganising district and city units, naming their new heads after years.

Much depends now on how she is able to galvanise the party workers and also win back the support of the communities that have shifted to other parties over the years.