Congress workers expected Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to turnaround the fortunes of the party in Uttar Pradesh with the swish of a magic wand, yet her combative and calculative campaign failed to lift the grand old party from the abyss of political irrelevance in the state.
Priyanka, 47, who was appointed AICC general secretary in-charge Uttar Pradesh (east) in January, did manage to create a buzz during the Lok Sabha polls but failed to revive the party’s hopes for the assembly elections scheduled for 2022.
A distinctive feature of Priyanka’s campaign was her aggressive takedown of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies, and while the jury is still out on why she did not take on the PM from Varanasi, her teasing references to the contest certainly established her as a politician willing to take a challenge head-on.
Another key feature of her foray into politics was her calculative approach allowing her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi to take centre-stage, while establishing herself firmly in a supportive role.
Her subtle messaging — be it speaking in Punjabi, invoking her Delhi roots, or stopping to greet Modi supporters — helped her establish an immediate connect with the masses. But, it did not translate into votes and despite her several rallies and road shows, most of the Congress candidates ended up third with either the BJP or the SP-BSP-RLD alliance winning in the state.
She, however, had taken a realistic approach from the start when she told party workers that she cannot do magic and they have to first strengthen the party at the grassroots.
Her realism was also evident when she said she had picked candidates in UP who would either win or cut into the BJP’s votes. But, analysts feel this may not hold true as the Congress may have taken away votes of the UP gathbandhan.
The BJP is set for another dominant performance in UP and expected to win over 50 seats, according to the trends. The SP-BSP-RLD gave a fight to the BJP on many seats, but seemed to have been blunted by the Modi factor.
The Congress is in contention only in its traditional bastion of Raebareli, which UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi is seeking to retain, and Amethi, where the Congress President was locked in a tight contest with Union minister Smriti Irani.
Priyanka first made her way into the nation’s consciousness when she walked with crowds along with her father Rajiv Gandhi’s cortege 28 years ago.
Her formal entry into politics was two decades in the making and the ‘will she, won’t she’ discussion finally ended with elder brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi appointing her AICC general secretary of Uttar Pradesh East.
The mother of two is seen by many in her party as a true inheritor of her grandmother Indira Gandhi’s legacy, resembling her not just in looks but also in her ability to reach out to people with her easy manner.
Priyanka’s strength so far has been in bringing together party workers and also giving Congress cadres hope of revival in UP where it has been reduced to a marginal player.
She started her foray into politics when Sonia Gandhi contested the 1999 Lok Sabha election from Amethi, her first after she assumed as party president. Priyanka campaigned and managed the affairs of the party in the family strongholds of Amethi and Rae Bareli ever since.
That was also when Priyanka Gandhi showed her steely resolve, for which her grandmother was famous.
She also managed the campaign for her brother in 2004 in Amethi, his first election.
Born on January 12, 1972, Priyanka Gandhi married Robert Vadra, a businessman from Delhi, on February 18, 1997 in a traditional Hindu ceremony. They have two children – son Raihan and daughter Miraya.
The couple is also seen in their children’s schools, taking part in Sports Day events and parent-teacher meetings just like any other parent.
Priyanka did her schooling from Modern School and Convent of Jesus and Mary in Delhi and later pursued her graduation in Psychology from Jesus and Mary College. She also did her masters in Buddhist Studies.
Speculation is rife that she may take the electoral plunge from Amethi if Rahul wins from there and decides to keep Wayanad from where he has already won.
According to observers, she may have not struck gold for the party in UP, but still remains the party’s best bet to stage a comeback. However, for that to happen a coherent strategy needs to be in place for her rather than just relying on a charm offensive.