Drained Congress gulps down Priyanka tonic
Almost in a coma after the crushing defeat in the general election, worsened by the leadership vacuum created by Rahul Gandhi’s inexplicable exit, the Congress grabbed the opportunity provided by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s arrest in Uttar Pradesh to inject some life into the organisation.
As Priyanka turned the Uttar Pradesh police’s refusal to let her meet the victims of Sonbhadra massacre into a high-voltage political drama by refusing to go back and sitting on a dharna on the road, the leadership swung into action, ordering the organisational machinery to make full use of the situation. The incident also provided Priyanka a good launch-pad for her state-centric politics.
K.C. Venugopal, the Congress general secretary in charge of the organisation, sent letter to all state unit chiefs, heads of departments and frontal organisations.
The note said: “It has been decided that dharnas/demonstrations may be organised in all states to register protest against the arrest of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and atrocities against the common man by the BJP government. You are requested to ensure maximum participation.”
The letter explained how several people were killed and injured on July 17 when tribal villagers resisted an attempt by the village headman and his supporters to take possession of disputed land in Sonbhadra district of Uttar Pradesh.
That the Congress sees this as an opening to build a campaign against the BJP was reflected in the choreographed reactions from the leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, Kamal Nath, Ashok Gehlot, Sachin Pilot, Jyotoraditya Scindia, Ajay Maken and Jitin Prasada.
Rahul was the first to tweet: “The illegal arrest of Priyanka in Sonbhadra, UP, is disturbing. This arbitrary application of power, to prevent her from meeting families of the 10 Adivasi farmers brutally gunned down for refusing to vacate their own land, reveals the BJP government’s increasing insecurity in UP.”
Other leaders followed suit, which suggested a defined plan of action.
Priyanka herself tweeted: “The duty of the government is to nab criminals. My duty is to stand with the victims of crime. The BJP, which failed in checking crime, is stopping me from doing my duty.
Nobody can stop me from standing up for the victims. The government should stop crimes.”
While tribal people and Dalits are going to be the core targets of the Congress in the coming years, the responses clearly betray an intention to project Priyanka’s leadership in Uttar Pradesh.
Rahul had already declared that Priyanka would lead the party in the state. There is an open clamour for her to take over the reins of the party after her brother chose to step aside. It is clear she will be an important factor in the Congress fightback plan.
Rahul had built his campaign against the Narendra Modi government during his first tenure on the issue of the land acquisition law. Rahul took the lead against the government when it tried to dilute the progressive legislation and showed that Modi can be effectively resisted.
That campaign peaked in mid-2015, followed by other protests against the government on questions of lynching, farmers, jobs, demonetisation and Rafale. By that yardstick, it is too early as the second Modi government is now barely two months old.
A new government, especially the one that won such a massive mandate, is usually given two to three months as the honeymoon phase. Although the lingering leadership crisis deepened the cynicism, Congress leaders are confident that the Opposition space will lighten up before the next round of Assembly elections.