Priyanka Gandhi Vadra rolled out her mission Uttar Pradesh shortly with a roadshow on a modified truck through the crowded streets of Lucknow, which is awash with posters of Congress’s brand new general secretary and her brother Rahul Gandhi, the party president. Priyanka Gandhi, dressed in a light kurta-churidar and a Congress-themed scarf, stood with Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia, her fellow UP in-charge, on the rooftop of the truck decorated in party colours.
47-year-old Priyanka, no stranger to roadshows with her brother, is campaigning for the first time outside the Gandhi family constituencies of Amethi and Raebareli, days after her formal debut in politics.
Priyanka Gandhi stood with her hands folded as she was greeted by hundreds of Congress workers standing and cheering on the streets of the UP capital. Ahead of the national election due by May, she is seen by many as the Congress’s big hope in Uttar Pradesh, the state which has the highest number of seats in parliament and is considered the route to power in the country. Her older brother Rahul Gandhi announced her political debut as the party’s general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh two weeks ago. Jyotiraditya Scindia will be in charge of the other half of the state.
“Tomorrow, I hope that we can all come together to bring about a new kind of politics. A kind of politics in which all of you will be stakeholders. A kind of politics in which the voice of my youth friends, my sisters and the poorest of the poor will be heard,” she told supporters through the party’s Shakti App on Sunday.
From the Lucknow airport, all three leaders will proceed to the city’s Congress office in a roadshow running well over 30 km through some of the most congested areas of the city – garlanding statues of Mahatma Gandhi and BR Ambedkar along the way.
Congress leaders and workers have gathered with posters and garlands to welcome Priyanka Gandhi at 14 different points on the route; party workers from neighbouring districts have been called in to ensure good public presence.
After reaching the Congress office, Priyanka Gandhi and the other leaders may address a press conference.
Over the next three to four days, she is likely to frequent the party office and chair daily meetings on specific constituencies of the 40-odd Lok Sabha seats that she is in charge of. Congress sources say after Lucknow, she may tour eastern Uttar Pradesh before returning to Delhi.
Priyanka Gandhi, who bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi, is pitched as a big draw with her charisma and voter connect, but her rescue Congress mission remains a daunting task in the state where the party is of little relevance but for a “vote-cutting” impact on other parties.
The party’s last two poll outings, the Gorakhpur and Phulpur by-elections of 2018, were disastrous. Its candidates managed only about 19,000 votes each and a 2% vote share in each constituency.
In 2014, the Congress just managed to retain the Gandhi family constituencies of Amethi and Raebareli – as compared to the 21 it had won five years earlier. The party’s vote share also dropped by almost 50 per cent between 2009 and 2014.
Sources say the party decided on Priyanka Gandhi’s role after much thought.
Eastern UP is home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi constituency and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s base Gorakhpur. In the past, Allahabad (or Prayagraj, as it is called now) was Lal Bahadur Shastri’s Lok Sabha seat and home to the Nehru family. Neighbouring Phulpur was Jawaharlal Nehru’s Lok Sabha seat.
The Congress, argue leaders, can only improve its position in this region. Failure is a possibility too, but that’s a chance Priyanka Gandhi and her brother are willing to take.