Can Priyanka work her magic on voters?

GORAKHPUR/VARANASI/AZAMGARH/AMBEDKAR NAGAR: Much has been speculated over Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s appointment as Congress UP General Secretary with political scenario a little changed ahead Lok Sabha Elections.

Now everyone is talking about her perfect entry in politics with elections just around the corner, whether this will prove to be Congress’s best win or was this, just like another propaganda shall be proved in the upcoming days.

In Lucknow’s Tanda which is 191 km from Lucknow, the early morning conversation in the locality is Priyanka’s entry in politics, TOI reports.

A local resident in the region Wali Ahmed is however convinced that Priyanka’s entry will make no difference to the electoral fate of the Congress at this stage but on the other hand, his friend Rajendra Kumar says “She has at least managed to get people to talk about Congress. The party may not be able to wrest Ambedkar Nagar constituency, but it will improve its score, here and elsewhere in UP.”

Well, Ahmed’s view is based on the party’s performance in the region over the past few elections.

Ambedkar Nagar in UP is a Dalit-dominated Lok Sabha seat from where BSP supremo Mayawati has won four times as MP.

It was in the year 1984 when Congress had last won this seat. While in 2014, BJP’s Hari Om Pandey has won this seat with a vote share of 41.77% with Congress candidate Ashok Singh scoring only a 2.2% vote share.

“Priyanka can put an end to dalali (the menace of middlemen) in the party, which has prevented it from performing well here. Senior leaders were involved in deciding who would get tickets. They did not allow a second line of leadership to develop. Now all this will end. Priyanka will meet workers and people directly and will have a free hand to set things right,” says another supporter and UP Pradesh Congress Committee (UPPCC) member from Iltifatganj Ramesh Mishra.

Congress Party workers say Priyanka reminds them strongly of her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

“She knows people by name and can take charge of a situation. She is warm but also direct. People like her,” says a supporter.

Speaking of the older generation that has witnessed Indira Gandhi’s tenure, a 70-year-old Congress supporter Mata Prasad Tiwari who has remained a “committed Congressi” says: “Priyanka is a true heir to her grandmother.”

Little further east, towards Azamgarh, support for Congress is somewhat muted.

“Under Priyanka’s leadership, the Congress’s vote share might increase, but it won’t be enough. Her resemblance to Indira Gandhi will not make much of a difference,” says music teacher Ravindra Mishra.

While some believe ‘Priyanka magic’ will not make any difference to the SP-BSP alliance’s prospects in the region.

Another supporter Mohammed Umair, a senior research fellow at Shibli Academy, a college in Azamgarh, says, “It is true that the old base of Congress has been lost, but the roots are still there. And people can see that the party has performed well in other states lately.”

Mulayam Singh had won a 35.43% vote share in Azamgarh in the year 2014 while Congress candidate Arvind Jaiswal got only 17,950 votes, which is 1.9% of the vote share.

Gorakhpur’s Congress unit no longer has a permanent office in the region with party workers meeting at the home of district chief Rakesh Yadav.

It was over a property dispute the party office had to be abandoned said the workers. “We are now looking for a new office.”

Congress party now survives in memories and images as Rural women like Sukhraji, a Dalit from Jhuniya village, remember the physical presence and charisma of Indira Gandhi and hopes Priyanka can replicate it.
“Indira did a lot for Dalits. If Priyanka too takes care of the poor like the rich are taken care of, she will be praised like Indira,” she says.

In Piprauli, another congress supporter Abdul Qayum Ansari said: “Just as a dying person can be brought back to life with medicine, Priyanka has come to enliven the Congress party. But it will take a long time, particularly in UP.”

While in Varanasi, most voters feel the party has made a blunder by bringing in Priyanka so late though the decision was a good one.

Pramod Majhi, a leader of the boatmen community at Shivala Ghat, says, “Despite the delay, Congress has taken the correct decision. It will help revive the party. Now we want to see her in action like her grandmother Indira Gandhi.”

But that optimism is absent in Milkichak village where Riteshwari Narain says, “Had Congress taken this decision before the formation of the SP-BSP alliance, the scene could have been different. One should not expect any miracle from Priyanka. She will need years just to re-strengthen the organisational structure of the party.”

Leader of the weaver fraternity Mahfooz Alam says, “Traditional Congress voters have waited for years for this. But to bring back non-Muslim traditional voters will take a lot of hard work.”

Another political science student Priya Vatsa says, “Priyanka will have to prove her political abilities instead of banking on her personality and image to get support of students and youth.”

While another student Ayushi says: “Excuses to stay away from politics, like taking care of family, and flaunting the Gandhi surname never impressed us. We want to see her break the existing suave image and work for women’s empowerment first inside the party and then outside,” she says.