Uncharted Territory

Decoding Priyanka Gandhi’s emergence into Uttar Pradesh politics

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra gestures towards supporters during her boat trip to Varanasi. Being at the helm of the Congress, however, could transform her and the party into a wild card in Uttar Pradesh. sanjay kanojia / afp / getty images
01 April, 2019

Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into Uttar Pradesh’s politics is linked to the odd predicament that the Congress faces in the state. It won 44 seats in 2014 and must at least triple its tally in this year’s Lok Sabha elections in order to lead a coalition government, in the event that the National Democratic Alliance is unable to form one. The Congress could achieve this by performing exceptionally well in states where it is in direct competition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which spearheads the NDA, or where it is part of an alliance. In states where the Congress is a marginal player, it is dependent on regional outfits to substantially reduce the BJP’s 2014 tally of 282 seats.

Uttar Pradesh is one of the states where the Congress has been a bit player for three decades, during which it won over 20 seats on only one occasion, in 2009. In 2014, the Congress secured two seats in the state. This was a sharp contrast to the BJP’s performance—it won 71 out of 80 seats, and its ally, Apna Dal, won two. It is the sort of state where the Congress should have played second fiddle to the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party—the regional players possessing a substantial base—or at least have refrained from undermining them. However, the Congress has swept aside this consideration to field candidates in around seventy constituencies, regardless of whether this works to the BJP’s advantage.

The Congress’ impact on past elections in Uttar Pradesh, barring the one in 2009, has been largely marginal. It is with the intention of overcoming its weak organisational apparatus that the party has chosen Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to spearhead its campaign as the general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh. As a crowd-puller, she may garner votes for the party that it would not have acquired otherwise. Being at the helm of the Congress, however, could transform her and the party into a wild card in Uttar Pradesh. Whether she can translate her undeniable appeal into votes remains to be seen.

The Congress decided to induct Priyanka into Uttar Pradesh because of the decisions taken by the BSP and SP on the basis of their interpretation of the 2014 election results. Underlying the BJP’s sweeping success in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 was a statistical detail from which the BSP and the SP drew hope. Their combined vote share was 42.12 percent, leaving them marginally behind the BJP’s 42.63 percent. This fact inspired them to work together in the Lok Sabha bypolls in Phulpur, Gorakhpur and Kairana, in 2018, during which the SP fielded candidates for whose victory the BSP’s cadres also worked. The BJP lost the three constituencies, which it had won in 2014.