TRINITY OF POWER
Priyanka Gandhi’s political debut as Congress general secretary of eastern Uttar Pradesh shocked the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and unsettled the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) combine in Uttar Pradesh at the same time. Even though the BJP is the Congress’ main rival for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka’s entry has sent a strong message to regional parties that a reinvigorated Congress cannot be written off.
Sidelined by the SP and the BSP who allotted the 134-year party only two seats out of 80 for the forthcoming general election, the Congress is back in the game with Priyanka’s debut.
“She has already made an impact,” said former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha. “And when she actively campaigns, there will be a greater impact.
Even though her earlier role was limited to campaigning in the family bastions of Amethi and Rae Bareli, Priyanka was an advisor and back-room strategist for Rahul during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. When the party’s alliance talks with the Samajwadi Party hit a roadblock ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, it was Priyanka who ironed out the differences by calling up Dimple Yadav, the wife of Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav.
With Priyanka known to be charismatic and articulate, the Congress believes her impact at the national level will be decided by her performance in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Four-time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati believes it is her state that will decide which party will form the government at the Centre. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP and its allies won 73 seats. The Dalit powerhouse has decided to field her candidates in 38 seats in order to get the numbers. She is also likely to set up candidates in several other states.
Mayawati is also seen as the biggest obstacle for Congress president Rahul Gandhi in his bid to lead the anti-Narendra Modi front. At a press conference with Akhilesh after formalising the BSP-SP pact, she said that BSP would never support the Congress in the state or nationally.
It was Mayawati, not SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who vetoed the inclusion of the Congress in 2019 UP alliance.
Even though DMK leader M K. Stalin and Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy have proposed Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s name for leading a united opposition, Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee are seen as the other contenders. However, their approval will depend on how many seats their parties will get.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is contesting 42 seats in the state and has also ventured into 14 other states to shore up her party's numbers, especially in view of the serious challenge which she is facing from the BJP in West Bengal.
Recently Mamata went all out to bring leaders of 23 opposition parties on one stage and launched a stinging attack against the Narendra Modi regime at her 'United India Rally', but political analysts said it might not be enough to catapult her as the prime face of anti-BJP politics as her party lacks a national presence.
Terming Banerjee "a national leader in her own merit", political analyst Udayan Bandyopadhyay said the January 19 mega rally might have added more significance to Banerjee's continuous tirade against the BJP government. But it is too early to predict whether she can emerge as the face of the opposition, with her party's geographical limitation also being a hindrance.
All said and done, there seems to be no stopping Priyanka, Mamata and Mayawati from having a big say in who gets to rule India for the next five years.