India Today - - UP FRONT - By Uday Mahurkar

“Don’t go into all the de­tails,” Khan sighed, when asked by this re­porter about the ne­go­ti­a­tions, “be­cause the past four months have seemed like a mini epoch. But now the al­liance is a re­al­ity and the peo­ple of UP are going to make Akhilesh the CM again, with the bless­ings of ne­taji.” The last, of course, is a politic ref­er­ence to Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, Akhilesh’s ousted fa­ther, still sulk­ing at be­ing out­ma­noeu­vred by his son, long de­rided by the likes of Amar Singh as a po­lit­i­cal naif.

Priyanka, un­like Akhilesh or Rahul, has rarely been pa­tro­n­ised. In­stead, she has en­joyed a mys­tique, her charisma spo­ken of with rev­er­ence by party work­ers and Congress watch­ers. She is said to have a surer po­lit­i­cal in­stinct than her brother and a greater con­nect with vot­ers. Such is the ‘clam­our’, in­sid­ers say, for Priyanka among Congress work­ers in UP that the party is care­ful to present her and Rahul as a team so that he is not un­der­mined. Pradeep Jain Aditya, a prom­i­nent Congress face in Bun­delk­hand, said he was happy “Priyankaji would play a larger than ex­pected role in these polls”. That said, she is not ex­pected to cam­paign out­side the fam­ily strongholds of Rae­bareli and Ame­thi.

“Priyankaji en­joys mass pop­u­lar­ity,” Aditya added, “peo­ple see in her the im­age of her grand­mother, the strength of Indira Gandhi.”

WRahul’s mind was made up after the ‘khat ya­tra’, Priyanka helped close the deal Un­of­fi­cially, the elec­tion will still be fought on the old bat­tle­ground of iden­tity pol­i­tics

hen it comes to the Ut­tar Pradesh elec­tion, all eyes have been drawn to the Sa­ma­jwadi Party’s al­liance with the Congress. The BJP will now put its faith in its star cam­paign­ers to wrest back the mo­men­tum.

Of­fi­cially, the BJP will cam­paign on the plat­form of de­vel­op­ment. Ac­cord­ing to party pres­i­dent Amit Shah, “good gov­er­nance re­mains the main is­sue.” The BJP an­tic­i­pates that de­mon­eti­sa­tion will work in its favour, and party work­ers claim that UP vot­ers see it as a de­ci­sive move against “the scourge of black money.” Kirti­vard­han Singh, BJP MP from Gonda, in­sists that peo­ple in his con­stituency ad­mire the prime min­is­ter’s “courage to take on the rich”. Poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, he says, will be a cor­ner­stone of the BJP’s cam­paign.

“We are,” says Shah, “promis­ing a new UP to vot­ers, [one] that is in di­rect con­trast to the cor­rup­tion and mis­gov­er­nance of both the SP and BSP. Other is­sues are side is­sues.” But many in the state party warn that those side is­sues may prove vi­tal. Akhilesh Ya­dav, the UP chief min­is­ter, is po­si­tion­ing him­self as the face of de­vel­op­ment. His suc­cess in steer­ing the SP out of the clutches of its pol­i­tick­ing old guard will Priyanka Gandhi be play­ing in the UP elec­tion? Ac­cord­ing to Ghu­lam Nabi Azad, in charge of UP, “Priyankaji played a key role in the for­ma­tion of the al­liance.” Sources close to the ne­go­ti­a­tions said Rahul Gandhi had made up his mind in favour of a pact with the SP after his ‘khat ya­tra’ in the state back in Septem­ber.

Priyanka was drafted in as the closer of the deal. When Congress stal­wart Kapil Sibal rep­re­sented Akhilesh Ya­dav at the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion in his bid to se­cure rights to the SP cy­cle, the 25-year-old party’s call­ing card, it ap­peared a tie-up was cer­tain. But Azam Khan, an SP stal­wart, had ex­pressed the view that an al­liance with the Congress might re­sult, in the long term, in a haem­or­rhag­ing of mi­nor­ity votes from the for­mer to the lat­ter. And once the SP an­nounced its list of 191 can­di­dates, its fledg­ling al­liance with the Congress al­ready ap­peared in jeop­ardy.

The frost thawed after Priyanka spoke to Akhilesh. Sources said she sent as many as nine text mes­sages to Akhilesh be­fore chang­ing tack and call­ing his wife Dim­ple. The next morn­ing, Dim­ple con­nected Akhilesh to Priyanka. Azam Khan too had a change of heart.

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