The various state elections in 2021 are really important for the Gandhi family. The results could determine whether they would continue to hold control over the ‘grand old party’.
The Gandhis, in a truce entered into with G-23 (the rebel Congress leaders) last year, had agreed to put in place a full-time party president by June 2021 and hold elections for organisational posts in the Congress.
Both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra have been busy campaigning for various state elections. While Priyanka focussed mainly on Assam, Rahul focussed on the southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
The party has lost considerable space to regional parties in southern India, which once used to be its bastion.
Rahul has given his all for the campaign in Kerala, leading from the front to boost the prospects of the United Democratic Front, which is predicted to lose the elections as per opinion polls.
A word of caution: opinion polls can go horribly wrong!
However, a victory could bolster Rahul’s chances of becoming the Congress President again, while a loss could derail his comeback.
Priyanka, meanwhile, is campaigning for the first time outside Uttar Pradesh. She is very popular among the cadre.
While I was working for the Odisha Congress during the 2019 state elections, there was a lot of demand for Priyanka as a star campaigner. Most candidates wanted her rally/roadshow in their constituencies.
I have always maintained that the Congress party is wasting Priyanka’s charisma in Uttar Pradesh where there is a lot of competition and the party is clearly the number four force in the state.
It will take quite a lot of effort and time to become the main contender to the Bharatiya Janata Party in UP. Instead she should focus on states which have more potential, like Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and the southern states.
Interim Congress chief Sonia Gandhi has been hesitant so far to push Priyanka into the limelight, probably because of her putra moh (love for the son). However, making Priyanka the Congress resident instead of Rahul would be a shrewd strategy at this juncture due to the following reasons:
1. Rahul has been tried and tested in the past and has failed. He doesn’t have a great track record to show. He actually provides strength to the BJP and not the Congress. His constant gaffes and the image which BJP has successfully portrayed of him make him no match to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He no longer inspires the same confidence among the cadre that he once did. He doesn’t come off as a serious career politician. The party needs a fresh face and perspective and not old wine in a new bottle.
2. Rahul is not liked by the old guard in the party. They don’t want to see him back as Congress boss. And this hate and resentment is mutual. If Sonia tries to thrust him on the stage again, G-23 could split the party.
3. Rahul has time and again expressed that he doesn’t want the top post. He comes off as a reluctant leader and making him president could be harmful for the prospects of the party.
“I’m here, standing by the Congress party and ready to fight for it because I believe in the Congress party. I don’t need to be the Congress president in order to fight for the Congress party or to work on strengthening it,” he said in an interview with US-based Pradeep Chibber and Harsh Shah for their book, ‘India Tomorrow: Conversations with the Next Generation of Political Leaders’.
4. Women account for roughly half of the total voter base. It is emerging as an important block capable of changing the direction of results as we have seen in states like Bihar.
They are increasingly participating with confidence in the election process and taking independent voting decisions. In many states the turnout of women is higher than that of men.
Priyanka is in a better position to identify their issues and could appeal to this segment. The party needs a new vote block and women could be the target, through Priyanka.
To sum up, Priyanka, not Rahul, should be the bet Sonia and party should take to propel the party's prospects and minimise the existential crisis threat.