After building an entirely avoidable hype, the Congress decided to not field Priyanka Vadra against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi.
The Congress’s 2019 Lok Sabha campaign in Uttar Pradesh has turned into a confusing affair, following a slew of blunders its senior leaders have committed over the last few weeks. It is possible that those mistakes could prove fatal for the party’s prospects in a state where it already was on a weak wicket and yet hoping to make amends for its pathetic performance of 2014.
Mistake number one: Priyanka Vadra, perhaps having slipped into a candid mood, remarked that the party had put up candidates in the state primarily to cut into the Bharatiya Janata Party’s votes. This was an admission that the Congress, once the predominant national party and which ruled the country for the better part of the period since independence, had been reduced to being a vote-cutter. It was also a tacit acceptance that the Congress wasn’t hoping to win but would be satisfied in the role of a spoiler for the BJP. Although the party’s general secretary and the dynasty’s freshest face to have formally become part of the organisation’s decision-making body later sought to dilute the impact by saying that the party had indeed put up strong candidates, the damage had been done. The BJP had pounced on the remark, but more importantly, core supporters and foot soldiers of the Congress in Uttar Pradesh were left demoralised.
Mistake number two: The Congress fielded not just its candidates but minority candidates in at least half a dozen seats in the state where the minority support can be a vote-swinger. By doing so, it has ensured a split in the minority votes between itself and the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party grand alliance. It needs no underlining that the situation works out in the BJP’s favour. Besides, Congress has antagonised the BSP and the SP in the process, who have hardened their positions on the grand old party.
Priyanka Vadra belied expectations that she would bring a fresh narrative and invigorate the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. But so far she has followed in her brother’s footsteps
Mistake number three: Priyanka Vadra made an appearance at an event organised by the Samajwadi Party. This took Congress workers by surprise and left the voters befuddled. They had thought that the Congress was serious in taking on the regional party and preparing the ground for the 2022 Assembly elections. Now clueless on where their party stood, they began to find it increasingly difficult to convince voters that their party was a genuine alternative to the SP and the BSP. Worse, they have to face the humiliation of continuous jibes from both these regional parties despite the olive branch the Congress’s senior leaders have been extending to them.
Mistake number four: Both Priyanka Vadra and Rahul Gandhi have been harping on the party’s target for 2022 in Uttar Pradesh, quite forgetting that there is the 2019 poll to be first handled. The message that has gone down the rank and file of the party is that the brother-sister duo has given up on 2019, at least in the state. In that eventuality, where is the incentive for the ground-level workers to seat it out for now?
Mistake number five: After building an entirely avoidable hype, the Congress decided to not field Priyanka Vadra against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi. Weeks ago, Priyanka Vadra had obliquely expressed a desire to take on Modi, and thereafter the party allowed speculation to build on the possibility. On the day that the Prime Minister was to hold a massive roadshow in his constituency, the Congress officially announced the candidature of Ajay Rai who had not only lost his deposit in 2014 but had polled far fewer votes than the debutant Arvind Kejriwal. The impression that went out was that the Congress had developed cold feet and that even Priyanka Vadra would not have been able to counter the Prime Minister’s popularity in Varanasi.
Mistake number six: Rahul Gandhi decided to contest from the second seat in Kerala’s Wayanad. This paved the way for the BJP to spin the narrative that the Congress scion was unsure of his victory in Amethi against the BJP’s Smriti Irani. In 2014, she, as a first-timer, had given a tough fight, greatly reducing the Congress president’s victory margin as compared to 2009. This time around, Irani is no longer an unknown face in the constituency, having regularly visited it since 2014 and participated in a host of development projects initiated by the Modi regime at the Centre and later by the Yogi Adityanath government in the state.
Mistake number seven: Priyanka Vadra belied expectations that she would bring a fresh narrative and invigorate the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. But so far she has followed in her brother’s footsteps, pushing the same old stale pronouncements on the BJP and Modi. Worse, she has sought to cash in on the dynasty factor, encouraging comparisons between Indira Gandhi and her, and talking of the immense contributions and sacrifices her family members had made for the nation’s cause.
All in all, the Congress faces yet another rout in Uttar Pradesh.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.