Priyanka missing from UP scene as Congress returns to the wilderness

After undertaking a vigorous campaign for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, the Congress party seems to have gone into hibernation in the state following the outcome of poll results on March 10. Even the All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary in charge of UP, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who used to travel to different parts of UP regularly ahead of the polls to attend political events or to meet victims of various crimes, has since not visited the state.

Despite undertaking a spirited campaign focusing on women and youth, which was spearheaded by Priyanka, the Congress could manage to win only 2 seats out of the total 403 it contested, garnering just 2.33 per cent votes. This was the grand old party’s worst-ever electoral performance in the country’s most politically-crucial state. Party insiders say they were hoping for much better results and did not expect such a debacle, which might cast a shadow on the party’s preparations for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

Priyanka has also been keeping silence on her social media accounts on the UP issues, which is a far cry from pre-poll days when she used to tweet regularly on various matters related to the state, taking on the BJP government and expressing her outrage over atrocities against Dalits, women and other marginalised communities.

Her pro-active engagement with the UP affairs also galvanised the Congress rank and file. It even impacted state politics to a degree. So, when four farmers and a journalist were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri in October last year, she remained in the spotlight for days after getting detained by police at a Sitapur guesthouse. The state government was subsequently forced to allow Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi along with other party leaders to visit the victim families in Lakhimpur Kheri.

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Priyanka also made headlines when she announced the Congress’s decision to give 40 per cent tickets to women candidates in the polls. This led to even the BJP leaders making an outreach to women in a bid to garner their votes. Priyanka’s “Main ladki hun, lad sakti hun” (I am a girl and I can fight) campaign set off a major buzz in the state, although it might not have given any electoral dividends to the party.

While Priyanka has disappeared from the UP scene, the principal Opposition Samajwadi Party (SP)’s president Akhilesh Yadav has become pro-active in visiting the victims of various crimes in the state. For instance, Akhilesh recently visited Lalitpur to meet the family members of a 13-year-old girl who was allegedly gangraped, in which the local police station’s station house officer (SHO) was also among the accused.

In Priyanka’s absence, the UP Congress leadership also seems to have gone into sleep mode. Senior party leader Ajay Kumar Lallu, who was known to be a fierce critic of the government and always faced police crackdown during protests, was removed as the state party chief following the poll results, but his successor has not been appointed even after two months. Lallu lost his own seat Tamkuhi Raj (Kushinagar district) ending up third with just 14.78 per cent votes despite being the sitting MLA.

A section of the Congress leaders, however, claim that they are still hopeful of the party’s revival in UP. A senior Congress leader said the party is still active in the state. “In the next few days, a new UP Congress president will be appointed. Also, Didi (Priyanka) is scheduled to visit Lucknow probably on June 1-2 for a conclave, where the state leadership will be given pointers on the resolutions adopted at the party’s Udaipur Chintan Shivir,” said a senior leader.

Another Congress leader said that the party has suffered a setback in the state, but it is going to plan a roadmap for long-term. “Yes, the UP party cadre is low on morale. But things will change soon. We hope for a turnaround and Priyanka ji will be back in Lucknow soon working for 2024 Lok Sabha polls. All preparations being made by us are for 2024 only, and we are hopeful we will do better this time,” said a leader. He said the party also hopes to reach out to the Muslim community. “The SP has neglected them (Muslims). We will be a better alternative for the community and we will work on that for 2024,” he added.

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