Lucknow: Riding in an open truck along with her brother and Congress President Rahul Gandhi during a roadshow in Lucknow, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Monday made her political debut amid thousands cheering her first public event after being appointed as national general secretary with charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Accompanied by Rahul Gandhi and in-charge of the western region, Jyotiraditya Scindia, the beaming 47-year-old sported a kurta and a stole, and waved at the teeming party workers jostling for a glimpse.
“Come, let’s build a new future, new politics with me. Thank you,” she said in her message to the people ahead of the visit to the state.
Enthusiastic Congress workers took to the streets to celebrate the arrival of the two new AICC incharges, with party tricolours and hoardings all over giving the city a festive look.
Some posters showed Priyanka in ‘Durga Mata’ avatar riding on a lion. “Maa Durga ka roop behen Priyankaji (Sister Priyankaji is Maa Durga’s incarnation) said one poster, while some others highlighted her resemblance to Indira Gandhi, her grandmother.
“Aa gayi badlaav ki aandhi, Rahul sung Priyanka Gandhi” (The storm is coming, Rahul along with Priyanka Gandhi), was a favourite slogan among the supporters, many of whom wore caps and T-shirts with Priyanka’s picture embossed on them.
In what is seen as launch of Congress’ campaign in the state ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Rahul Gandhi used the roadshow to send a message to the ruling BJP government in the state and at the Centre, saying that his party will “play on front foot” in Uttar Pradesh and other states, and that will not sit idle till it forms a government in UP and that is the mandate given to Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia.
“Their (Priyanka and Scindia) aim is definitely the Lok Sabha elections, but also to bring a Cognress government here,” he said.
Asking crowd to repeat his “chowkidar chor hai” (guard is the thief) barb against PM Modi in connection with the Congress party’s corruption allegation in the Rafale fighter jet deal, Rahul alleged that the prime minister has “stolen” money from Uttar Pradesh and other states to benefit industrialist Anil Ambani.
On Uttar Pradesh, where his party is struggling to regain lost grounds, the Congress chief said, “UP is the centre (and) heart of country. I have made Priyanka and Scindiaji general secretaries and told them that they have to fight injustice that is rampant in the state for years. They have to fight against it and bring a government that gives justice.”
Priyanka Gandhi is the Congress’ big hope for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections who will be shouldering the responsibility of reviving Congress fortunes, especially in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh, say party insiders.
Her entry into active politics has been at a time when the party is not only witnessing one of the most difficult times electorally but has also been sidelined by prospective allies for the ‘mahagatbandhan’ with the Samajwadi Party and BSP totally ignoring it in forming their alliance.
Priyanka 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 has been pushed on the margins with the advent of caste based politics since the last 30 years.
Though she is no stranger to such roadshows with her brother, she is seen campaigning for the first time outside the Gandhi family constituencies of Amethi and Raebareli and her political acumen and connect with the public will be at test for the first time.
The last two Lok Sabha by elections in eastern Uttar Pradesh, for the Gorakhpur and Phulpur, were disastrous for the Congress. Party candidates managed to fetch only around 19,000 votes each and registered only a 2 per cent 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 voteshare also dropped by almost 50 per cent between 2009 and 2014.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh, the area where Priyanka Gandhi will be active is presently the strongholds of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.