File image of Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is expected to finally reach Lucknow on July 16 to launch the poll campaign of the Congress party with just six months left for the elections in Uttar Pradesh.
This will be over one-and-a-half years after she last visited the UP capital where the Congress is hoping for a revival of its electoral fortunes.
But is it a case of too little, too late? Prashant Kishor, the poll strategist who met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on July 13 and had first pitched as the Congress strategist then for Priyanka to be projected as the party’s chief ministerial face in the 2017 UP elections, would perhaps know best.
Congress did not take Kishor’s bait then, Priyanka remained in the back-room, and the Congress offered late Shiela Dikshit as the chief ministerial face before dropping her mid-way through the campaign as it stitched an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav's Samajwadi Party.
Priyanka was finally ‘launched’ in Uttar Pradesh ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when after a mega road show in Lucknow with her, Rahul Gandhi said at the Congress office in Lucknow that while the party had modest expectations in UP in 2019, the real hope the party had was for the 2022 assembly elections.
As it turned out, 2019 too turned into a disaster for Congress in UP as Rahul lost from Amethi, Priyanka did not contest and the only seat Congress won was Sonia Gandhi’s Rae Bareli.
After that disaster, Priyanka did not choose to stay put in Lucknow but preferred parachute visits to the state. Like going to Sonbhadra after the killing of tribals two years ago, her last visit to Lucknow in December 2019 to meet those injured in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, her visit to Hathras last October to meet the family of a gang rape and murder victim and a series of Kisan Mahapanchayats she did in western UP in February-March this year besides taking a dip in the Sangam in Prayagraj in February.
She will now visit UP on July 16, over four months after her last visit to the state on March 7.
In political circles of Lucknow, the other leading parties are hardly attaching any importance to Priyanka’s upcoming visit with one senior BJP leader in the state telling News18 that this is perhaps the third time recently that the Congress leader has rescheduled even her present trip.
The Congress party was abuzz a year ago amid speculation that Priyanka could shift base to Lucknow till the elections. House of a former Congress leader was also prepared for her longer stay. But that did not happen as well amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Priyanka’s entry to Lucknow now comes at an even more precarious time for the party as it has fared disastrously in the recent Zila Panchayat Chief and Block President polls, losing even in its only stronghold of Rae Bareli.
While Congress party members in UP project her as the ‘chief ministerial face’ of the party, there is no such declaration from the leader herself and it is not even clear if she would like to send a message to the cadre by jumping into the electoral arena and contest an MLA seat in the upcoming elections.
Many political experts in UP are betting on that not happening. In the end, it may end up being a case of Priyanka’s entry in Lucknow already being too late.