The Congress seems to have been hurt by the general secretary’s gimmick which backfired. Everybody seems to have had a meltdown over Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s exit from the Varanasi race than probably she herself. Truth be told, no sane observer bought into her tease that she could force a showdown with Modi in Varanasi. Even when party workers requested her to contest elections from Rae Bareli, her mother Sonia Gandhi’s parliamentary constituency, and she quipped, “Why not Varanasi?” Yet she crafted a groundswell of expectation. But perhaps Priyanka, with her street theatre style and a winsome script, assets which people thought would help revive the moribund Congress across the country, has overplayed her aura a bit too much. And now her mystique is gone. For she led the masses to believe that she was plucky enough to forget her dynastic tags and jump into the fray as a challenger to Modi, knowing full well that all she was doing was muddying the waters and setting off anxieties in the BJP camp. That strategy backfired because to the voting public, she looked like she was chickening out from a contest with Modi. And in the process, she ended up making him look bigger than he was before. Why build up hype and set off speculation unless it is to raise her stakes in the game of perception? By that measure of public relations, she has failed. Let’s not forget that though she may have attempted to be fearless about the probe against husband Robert Vadra and supported him through sittings as a routine matter, that did not go down well either. So now, poor Ajay Rai, who had fought Modi from Varanasi in 2014 and come in at number three, stares possibly at a bigger defeat. Going by electoral history, such a prize fight as the one projected has never taken place. So by challenging that unwritten convention between political party chiefs of not undercutting each other, Priyanka could have changed the rules of the game but like all things in Congress, it all boils down to the tried and tested. The reformatory zeal of Rahul Gandhi, at this stage, therefore, just gets reduced to a footnote.
The Congress seems to have lost its grip on this round of general elections ever since it has had the discomfort of blending with the mahagathbandhan of the federal parties. Truth is Priyanka Gandhi was brought in late, not to perk up the performance in the general elections but to prepare the pitch of winning successive Assembly elections first, beginning with Uttar Pradesh. On this count, she knows how grassroots cadre management is the reason for BJP’s big wins and publicly said how her party’s organisational weakness needs big improvement. Perhaps it’s this practicality that crept through when she asked her party workers to focus on the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in 2022. And for all her Brahmin-pleasing, Ganga ki beti journeys, getting the boatmen to help her reach out to the Most Backward Classes (MBCs) and visiting shrines, she has carefully woven her campaign in a belt that was won by the Congress in 2009. So her intent is not dissimilar from the Congress’ undeclared goal for this elections, revive the party at the grassroots level, reclaim the ground it ceded to caste groups on aggressive Hindutva and create an all-new template for political survival rather than flagging a jaded and tired matrix. Priyanka knows she can overshadow brother Rahul with her boldness and may have taken a tactical step back, confining herself to Uttar Pradesh and occasionally helping him. And contrary to perception, both brother and sister are on the same page. So if this election turns out to be another dud for the Congress, the family wouldn’t want Priyanka’s maiden entry to be sullied by it in the interest of long-term survival. Hence the toning down. Unless the Congressmen resort to pressure tactics to bring her to the forefront. That will be another drama.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer