LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh – Having drawn much flak on account of her ‘political tourist’ image, the Congress Party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi is likely to set out on a whirlwind tour of Uttar Pradesh over the next few weeks.
Significantly, unlike her rival political parties, Priyanka is not going to use Ayodhya as her launchpad. Sources at the All India Congress Committee (AICC) headquarters said that Priyanka would start her campaign from Meerut in West UP where the farmers’ agitation has already weakened the ruling BJP. That was likely to be followed by Varanasi, Agra, and Gorakhpur. While Gorakhpur is the home of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Varanasi remains the parliamentary constituency of prime minister Narendra Modi.
UP Congress president Ajay Kumar Lallu is stated to have got down to making preparations for these rallies, that have yet to be formally announced by the party.
Though political analysts usually remain very skeptical about Priyanka’s programs, which are often shrouded with uncertainty, party insiders claim that she has finally decided to get down to brass tacks.
So far, it was pretty evident that she was dilly-dallying and invariably failing to keep her date with Uttar Pradesh. She made commitments multiple times to spend much of time in UP, but that was only meant to be forgotten, soon after she would return to Delhi.
She was completely rattled by the party’s rout in 2019 when the Congress could retain only one – Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli – out of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. The party received the biggest blow in Amethi – the party’s traditional bastion – that was wrested by BJP’s Smriti Irani.
She did drop by to assuage the sufferings of anti-CAA protestors who were harassed to the core by the Yogi Adityanath administration. Besides physical and mental torture, these protestors were also publicly shamed with their names and pictures displayed on hoardings put up along roadsides in the state capital. Fines imposed on them under hackneyed laws of the Raj were also carried boldly on these hoardings. At that juncture, Priyanka was the only political leader to express solidarity and empathy with them.
She flew down to Lucknow and met the children of Congress activist and anti-CAA protestor Sadaf Jafar, who had been jailed on flimsy trumped-up charges. And that was followed by a visit to the residence of yet another prominent anti-CAA protestor S.R Darapuri a former IPS officer, who was also booked and imprisoned for joining CAA demonstrations. She created quite a sensation by disembarking from her vehicle and walking down a busy road when UP police stopped her motorcade. Eventually, she stunned all and sundry by riding on the pillion of a scooty to cover the next few kilometers to meet Darapuri’s family. A frustrated UP police later fined the Scooty for “violation of prohibitory orders”.
After a while, Priyanka declared that she would shift base from Delhi to Lucknow and focus her energies on the revival of the party. Media was replete with stories about the house of a relative getting spruced up for her in the heart of Lucknow. But that house is still awaiting her arrival.
Even though she never kept her word about camping in UP, there can be no denying that she did make it a point to take a plunge whenever there was something serious. That became visible for the first time in July 2019 when 10 Dalits tribals were massacred and more than two dozen injured in Umbha village of Sonbhadra district, where an upper caste village ‘pradhan’ and his goons stormed into the village to take possession of disputed land and opened indiscriminate firing on them.
Taking to Twitter, Priyanka had said, “In the BJP ruled state, the confidence of criminals is so high that broad daylight killings are continuously happening. The killing of nine Gond tribesmen (the toll later rose to 10), including 3 women, by the land mafia in Umbha village of Sonbhadra is heart-wrenching. The Chief Minister and his administration all seem to be sleeping. Is this how the state will be crime-free?”
Three months later in October 2020, she made it a point to visit Hathras, where a few days earlier, a 19- year old Dalit girl was allegedly gang-raped by upper-caste Thakur men and her body was burnt with kerosene at the dead of the night by none other than the police.
This time, her brother Rahul Gandhi was also accompanying her and both were stopped by a huge posse of UP police. After a stand-off, they were forced to make a retreat, but they decided to make yet another attempt on the following day, when they staged a dharna, following which the UP government finally gave in and allowed them to visit the girl’s family. The intimidation by the police was so strong that even veteran BJP leader Uma Bharti made a fervent appeal to Adityanath not to disallow political leaders from visiting the victim’s village.
More recently in July 2021, Priyanka drove down to Lakhimpur-Kheri (about 150 km from Lucknow) to call on the woman, whose saree was pulled in an obvious disrobing attempt by ruling BJP activists during the recent panchayat elections. The woman was so touched by the move that sometime back she decided to leave the Samajwadi Party and join the Congress.
Whether her proposed rallies will help to awaken the Congress from its deep and long slumber, only time would tell. But, it would not be far-fetched to assume that this could a good beginning for the re-birth of the Congress party in the country’s most populous state where it ruled for four decades after independence only to get lost in oblivion for 32 years now. After all, well begun is half done.
Many always believed that Priyanka has the potential to infuse life into the dormant party. Time has come to test her prowess to do so. Inconsistency is what has been letting her down over the years. Thus, if she could actually become consistent and display perseverance in pursuance of her goal, perhaps she could arrive somewhere on her ‘Mission -22’.