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 (Jayachandran/Mint)
(Jayachandran/Mint)

Opinion | With Priyanka in, Modi faces a stiffer challenge

Priyanka Gandhi’s presence galvanises her partymen like only Indira Gandhi could but the Congress cannot just hope that bringing out the warrior princess will win it the battle

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has finally entered the political arena and the fight with Prime Minister Narendra Modi has well and truly been joined. General elections 2019 is now wide open and the dynasty is stamping its authority on the party, and how. Her brother and Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday appointed her as general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh East just months before the election jamboree gets rolling. Priyanka’s debut answers the more-than-two-decade-old questions: when will she do it, and why doesn’t she do it? So far, the younger sibling, 47, had confined herself to campaigning for her mother Sonia and her brother in their respective constituencies, Raebareli and Amethi. She did her bit, being around her mother and brother when they needed her most. That job done, she would retreat to tend to her family. Even as the public in general and party members, in particular, begged her to jump into active politics, she maintained a calculated distance from public affairs. They saw in her reflections of her grandmother, the redoubtable Indira Gandhi.

Uttar Pradesh East may be her immediate—and by no means easy—brief, but make no mistake, the repercussions would go far beyond that. Rahul by himself has no doubt infused some of the energy the party needed. Priyanka’s presence galvanises her party members like only Indira could. The two siblings have each other’s back but the party has always felt more invigorated around her. With the two now in it together, the challenge for Modi is out in its most potent form.

However, pitfalls abound. The Congress stands on a very weak footing in politically the most important state of India. The North Indian state, driven by religion and caste, has had little to no room for a party driven by pluralistic values. The Grand Old Party won only two out of 80 seats in the state in the 2014 general elections. The two state parties, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP), have already struck their mahagathbandhan or pre-election alliance, with no Congress in it. The fight for the oldest Indian party could then be anything but easy. That being said, Priyanka’s entry couldn’t have come at a better time for the Congress. The results of Rahul’s efforts—what with the party’s success in the recent Assembly elections—are for all to see, though the wins owe to a host of other factors as well. With the sister in tow, the morale of the party workers can only improve. The ruling BJP at the Centre hasn’t looked weaker in the last five years—the 10% quota for the economically weaker sections in the general category is a gambit that only shows up its desperation. The distress among farmers in rural areas and the disappointment of the taxpaying middle class are all too apparent now. However, the entry of Priyanka into the fray could be seen as a sign of desperation of the Congress as well, a last throw of the dice. The Congress cannot just hope that bringing out the warrior princess will win it the battle. It has serious work and realpolitik to do.

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