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Last Updated : Apr 29, 2019 10:49 AM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Politics | Priyanka Gandhi’s Varanasi no-show will adversely impact Congress

The reasons behind Priyanka Gandhi not contesting from Varanasi will play out after May 23 in the case of a hung verdict.

Moneycontrol Contributor @moneycontrolcom

Rajeev Sharma 

Murky! That’s the word which best describes the ongoing general elections. This word will most likely sum up the post-election scenario next month when efforts are made to form the next government.

The tipping point of this murky politics was the tame surrender by the Congress in deciding against pitching Congress general secretary for Uttar Pradesh (East) Priyanka Gandhi opposite Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi. Instead, it has fielded local strongman Ajay Rai from Varanasi. Rai’s name was announced a day ahead of Modi filing his nomination from Varanasi.

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The Rahul Gandhi-led Congress could have, and probably would have, gone ahead with Priyanka as its Varanasi candidate only if she were to be the sole candidate of the entire opposition. That was not to be.

Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav was willing to withdraw the SP candidate Shalini Yadav from Varanasi in Priyanka’s favour, but Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati put her foot down and didn’t allow the SP to do it. Insiders believe that Mayawati persuaded Akhilesh not to do so in the larger interest of the alliance as allowing Priyanka to contest against Modi would inevitably cause a ripple effect in favour of the Congress in seats in and outside Uttar Pradesh and that it would work against the alliance.

In all probability, Mayawati was right. However, then isn’t it an open secret now that though the Congress’ primary opponent is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the BSP is no less an opponent. Mayawati has noticed that the Congress has fielded strong candidates against all her 38 candidates in UP whereas in constituencies where it is facing the SP, the Congress is virtually offering a friendly match.

This rivalry and hostility between the BSP and the Congress will become a major factor in a post-poll scenario if it is a hung verdict — possibility that can't be ruled out.

Mayawati first shut the SP-BSP alliance door on the Congress, despite Akhilesh's keenness on roping in the Congress. Then she shut out Priyanka from Varanasi. Both these decisions flow from Mayawati’s conviction that a stronger Congress is injurious to the alliance, especially the BSP.

Mayawati playing hard ball with the Congress hasn’t gone unnoticed by the grand old party. Given this friction, in the event of no party winning a clear majority and if the non-BJP, non-Congress parties’ manage to form an alliance, the Congress will ensure that Mayawati does not get to be its leader, let alone its prime ministerial candidate.

The BSP leader is also aware of Congress’ important role if the results throw up a hung Parliament. However, Mayawati’s strategy is two-fold: First, get to a position of strength by winning maximum number of seats and hope for a hung verdict; second, put the Congress in a situation where it has no option but to support her to keep Modi out.

In the whole Varanasi episode, it is the Congress that has ended up with negative points. After creating a hype for weeks about a possible Modi vs Priyanka battle in Varanasi, the Congress has lost hugely in the perception battle.

After all, isn’t it a fact that elections are won or lost largely on public perception? Even if Priyanka wasn’t going to be the sole candidate of the entire opposition from Varanasi against Modi, the Congress would have won the public perception by fielding her from Varanasi despite a lack of opposition unity. She could have swung the results in many constituencies not only in Uttar Pradesh, but in many other states as well. Now, however, the perception is that she has shied away from a fight.

Irrespective of whose decision it was to keep Priyanka away from the Varanasi poll battle, its decision does not augur well for the Congress which wants to prevent Modi from returning to power.

Rajeev Sharma is an independent journalist and a political analyst. Twitter: @kishkindha. Views are personal.

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First Published on Apr 29, 2019 10:49 am
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