BJP’S UP COCKTAIL
“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.