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Challenge before Priyanka Gandhi Vadra: Emulating uncle Sanjay Gandhi


NEW DELHI: Congress continued to condemn the Centre’s decision to ask Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to vacate her government accommodation, but the party brass remained skeptical about the political dividends Congress could reap from the government’s action. If Vadra is serious about shifting base to Lucknow, she would need to emulate the skills her uncle Sanjay displayed in 1980, which looks like an almost impossible task for her and the party, given the current political climate.

As if to inspire Vadra to rebuild the moribund UP Congress, Tamil Nadu Congress MP Karti Chidambarm tweeted: “The path for national revival of Congress is via Uttar Pradesh. The clearest statement of intent will be to declare Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the chief ministerial candidate of the Congress in UP. PGV must be primarily based in Lucknow and lead the charge.” It evoked two kinds of responses from the Congress camps. One section pointed out how Karti’s father P Chidambaram ‘fled’ the field in 2014. Others reminisced how Vadra would have to take a leaf out of her uncle’s book if she was serious about achieving success in UP.

To begin with, Vadra would need to actually shift to Lucknow, not continue with her family ‘tradition’ of flying in and out of poll-bound UP. With a towering and triumphant Indira Gandhi behind him, it was Sanjay Gandhi who led the last successful fight back for Congress in UP in 1980. After Congress returned triumphant in the assembly polls held months after the Lok Sabha success in 1980, the newly-elected Congress MLAs passed a resolution electing Sanjay as CLP leader, but he turned it down and nominated VP Singh as CM. Fourteen days after his return to Delhi to help his mother, he died in a plane crash.

Drafted in the party in his place, his brother Rajiv benefitted from the sympathy wave generated by Indira Gandhi’s assassination in the Lok Sabha and UP assembly polls held four-and-a-half years later but the new heir squandered them away by 1989, through a series of blunders. Ever since, Congress has been on the sidelines in UP. Success eluded Sonia Gandhi during her 18-year tenure, Rahul Gandhi since 2004, culminating in his defeat in Amethi in LS polls, and the Rahul-Priyanka combine in the 2017 assembly and 2019 LS polls. UP Congress declined during the stints of Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri too.

After some senior Congress leaders scripted a relatively good performance for the party in 2009, helping the party win 22 LS seats, they mooted the idea that Rahul should capitalise on it by positioning himself as party’s CM face in the 2012 UP assembly polls. That was contemptuously rejected as it was considered an insult to the ‘prime-ministerial Gandhis’. The rest — including how Rahul and his handpicked strategists managed the 2012 assembly poll rout — is history.

Vadra has the option of residing at Sheila Kaul’s Lucknow house and learning the realities of her party and larger challenges UP’s politics presents today. Spending part time in UP and harping on the line that she is Indira’s granddaughter won’t be enough.

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