|Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
New Delhi, April 1: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has virtually taken control of the Congress’s election management as Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are mostly away campaigning, party insiders have told The Telegraph.
Priyanka has been spending most of her time in the war room at her brother’s home, the sources said, adding that her say was decisive in matters relating to campaign, publicity and media interactions.
Sonia, who had withdrawn from organisational affairs, too has intervened to address a few key concerns that were hurting election management. Issues such as the lack of coordination between senior leaders and Rahul’s team have been resolved and there is now a greater unity of purpose at the top.
Priyanka has not just been attending meetings to decide campaign material, she is managing the day-to-day problems and directing the party general secretaries assigned charge of the various states.
Some party functionaries had played down Priyanka’s role, saying she was only assisting her mother and brother who were “terribly busy” and mostly out of Delhi. But others confirmed that she had indeed taken charge following “the predictions of doom” that had led to “a sense of resignation among party leaders”.
“The family was alarmed by the level of pessimism caused by the propaganda about the Congress slipping to 50-60 seats,” a leader said.
“They decided to fight back and the result, at least in terms of the mood, has been remarkable. Both Rahul and Priyanka have drummed it into party functionaries that all is not yet over and there’s no need to believe the media projections.”
First, the “good” constituencies were identified and a strategy was evolved to salvage them. The mood lifted “all of a sudden” when the Punjab candidates were announced, a party insider said.
“Fielding Amarinder Singh and Ambika Soni showed the party’s aggressive intent and the workers received the message well,” the source said. “Ghulam Nabi Azad’s entry into the fray, followed by Madhusudan Mistry’s decision to take on Modi, further boosted morale.”
Another senior leader candidly accepted that it had been easy to motivate the party as the target was limited to two objectives: preventing a runaway Modi victory and avoiding a Congress slump to its worst ever tally.
“We have overcome that scare and the leadership is now confident of crossing 130 seats,” the leader said.
“Things have improved in the last 15 days and we hope to do better once the second round of our media campaign begins.”
Party strategists cite Karnataka, Assam, Kerala, Punjab and Telangana as very good prospects while Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha are in the not-bad category.
Even the Uttar Pradesh outcome would not be as bleak as predicted, they claim, and predict gains in Bihar where Lalu Prasad too is expected to do better. Rajasthan is considered the weakest spot.
“We are not aiming high as anti-incumbency is hurting us in some states. But we are confident of demolishing the perception of a Modi wave in the country,” said a leader.
“There’s strong anti-incumbency against the Akali Dal in Punjab and we’ll make huge gains if there is a fair election. We’ve recovered in Madhya Pradesh and hope to surprise observers even in Gujarat.”
The Congress won 206 seats in the previous election but hopes to remain in the hunt this time even with 70-80 fewer as the primary target is to prevent Modi from becoming Prime Minister. If an alternative government is possible with a Congress prop, the party will be happy to extend support.