New Delhi: An effective campaigner, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be fulfilling a long-cherished wish of Congress workers and injecting a new enthusiasm in the party’s preparations for the coming Lok Sabha elections by making a full-fledged entry into active politics in the treacherous battleground of Uttar Pradesh.
Her sudden appointment as General Secretary by the party President and her brother, Rahul Gandhi, Amethi took the country’s political circles by surprise and has rejuvenated the Congress rank and file.
The appointment came just as campaign has started picking up pace for the Lok Sabha polls slated for April-May.
A mother of two, Priyanka Gandhi, 47, has been reluctant to take a full political plunge even though she has been campaigning for Rahul Gandhi and her mother and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi in their constituencies in the parliamentary polls and has been involved in party decisions and strategy concerning Uttar Pradesh.
The first signal of her taking an active political role came in 2017 when she was involved in the backroom discussions to thrash out an alliance with Samajwadi Party during the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh.
With Rahul Gandhi emerging as the heir apparent to Nehru-Gandhi family legacy in the Congress since he contested his first parliamentary election in 2004, Priyanka Gandhi has preferred to be in the background and has been a pillar of support to her brother.
Priyanka Gandhi is seen as charismatic, poised, sharp, intelligent, combative, communicative, quick-witted and a leader who easily connects with people.
Party rank and file see her as the “brahmastra” to defeat the BJP and she is seen to have more prowess as a campaigner than her brother.
Her appointment has enthused party workers. As general secretary incharge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi is expected to energise the party’s campaign and queer the pitch for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the MP from Varanasi.
Her appointment has come at a critical time for the Congress. The party is no longer in the pole position in Indian politics, having been squeezed out by the BJP.
After its debacle in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress has lost several elections to the BJP and finally made a turn around late last year after forming governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The party is emaciated in Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 MPs to parliament, and the two seats the party won in 2014 were in no small measure due to the role played by Priyanka Gandhi in the campaign.
The Congress has been edged out of Bajujan Samaj Party-Samawadi Party alliance for the Lok Sabha polls in the state and an apparent reason for Priyanka being given an active role in the state is Rahul Gandhi’s desire “to play on the front foot” wherever the party is contesting elections.
With her mannerisms and looks reminiscent of former Prime Minister and her grandmother Indira Gandhi – who was seen as a decisive leader and a fighter – Congress workers always have had an innate and abiding faith in Priyanka Gandhi and in her ability to deliver at the grassroots.
Posters of “Priyanka lao” have often appeared outside the Congress central office after the party’s defeats over the last four-and-a-half years.
A private person, Priyanka Gandhi had, in an interview to NDTV, described herself “almost a recluse” and said she did not want to be in politics.
“I’m very happy living my life the way I am. I think there are certain aspects of politics which I’m just not suited to,” she had said.
Priyanka Gandhi had also said that she sees herself more like her father, Rajiv Gandhi, than her grandmother and had expressed an abiding admiration for her Italian-born mother for the way she steered the party through difficult times despite not having a natural liking for the party. “If there’s one woman I admire in the world, it’s my mother,” she had said.
Priyanka Gandhi has not eschewed political crossfire in the past, having attacked the BJP and Modi during her campaigns in Amethi and Rae Bareli. She had also taken part in the midnight potest last year by Rahul Gandhi against the Kathua and Unnao rapes.
Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics is also seen as a step to give her a formal role in assisting Rahul Gandhi in running the grand Old Party when Sonia Gandhi is not longer very active due to health-related issues.
There has been an apprehension and speculation that two power centres could emerge in the Congress with her formal entry but observers feel Priyanka Gandhi is unlikely to allow any such tendency to gain ground.
There has also been an apprehension that cases of alleged irregularities in land deals faced by her husband Robert Vadra could be a reason for the delay in her taking a more active role in politics.
Having taken the political plunge, she is also expected to contest the Lok Sabha polls. If and when she announces that decision, it will create another buzz in the Congress which could hope to improve its prospects in the Lok Sabha polls.
Like her brother, Priyanka Gandhi has braved personal tragedies of assassination of her father Rahul Gandhi and her grandmother Indira Gandhi.
Priyanka Gandhi was born on January 12, 1972 in New Delhi and did her schooling in the city. She later pursued her degreee in psychology from Jesus and Mary College.