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Jai Mata Di! Priyanka takes early lead over Akhilesh

Perception war hots up ahead of UP polls

Priyanka could well provide the much-needed heft to the sagging morale of the GOP.

By VIRENDRA SINGH RAWAT

LUCKNOW, Oct 11 (The CONNECT) - Poll watchers vividly remember the superlative fanfare with which the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP) had announced their much-hyped alliance ahead of the 2017 elections to the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly.

Led by their GenX leaders, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav respectively, the two big political outfits however, bit the dust at the hustings. The 2017 UP elections saw Congress and SP tally dwindle to their lowest ever, 7 and 47 respectively, even as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) romped home victorious by cornering more than 75 percent of the total 403 seats in UP.

As expected, the SP-Congress alliance quickly collapsed under its own weight – or whatever of it they had.

Now, with the 2022 UP assembly elections just five months away, another progeny of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra – Rahul’s younger sister and Congress general secretary in-charge of UP – is holding the baton for Congress in the high-stake electoral battle.

As things stand, any pre-poll alliance between SP and Congress a la 2017 template is highly unlikely. This would mean that in contrast to the 2017 Rahul-Akhilesh pairing, a curious one-upmanship is gaining momentum in the most populous state, especially in the backdrop of a boiling farm protest with the recent Lakhimpur incident acting as a catalyst for the disarrayed opposition parties.

Interestingly, both Priyanka and Akhilesh kick-started their UP poll campaigns by holding separate public meetings on Sunday in Varanasi and Saharanpur districts, respectively, with focus on farmers.

Nonetheless, the first round in the war of perception has gone to Priyanka, who seems to have taken an early lead over Akhilesh in portraying herself as the strongest among the main contenders in UP against the ruling BJP next year.

For instance, although Priyanka and Akhilesh addressed their public meetings around the same time, the Congress leader garnered a larger media coverage owing to her direct attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his parliamentary constituency of Varanasi. She also reflected better optics by visiting the revered Kashi Vishwanath temple, sporting the customary ‘teeka’ and starting her address with a shloka in praise of the goddess Durga:

Ya devi sarvabhuteshu vishnu-mayeti sadbita

Namas tasyai, namas tasyai, namas tasyai namo namah

and extending Navratra greetings to the audience - Jai Mata Di.

Although Priyanka has yet not been officially anointed as Congress’ UP CM candidate, yet senior party leaders have long been speaking in her favour and she could safely be contended as the party’s de facto nominee.

In recent months, Priyanka has been taking up issues of public interest, especially women, farmers and the poor, to corner the saffron outfit. In fact, she was prevented from meeting the victims’ families in Lakhimpur and subsequently put under house arrest. However, she made the most of the opportunity by relaying her messages over social media platforms and giving bites to the electronic media.

Later, she was allowed to meet the families, which only amplified her outreach to the farm community in UP, and her dogged determination to stay put even in the face of intense government pressure to deter her from her onerous mission.

Moreover, Priyanka has been scathing in her attack on Modi over the new farm laws, which she claimed spell doom for Indian farmers and rural economy.

Addressing Congress’s Kisan Nyay Rally in Varanasi, she noted the new farm laws would fortify the stranglehold of the capitalists – whom she labelled as Modi’s billionaire friends – on the agricultural landscape, and play havoc with the farmers’ income, agricultural holdings and chief crops.

She claimed with the implementation of these laws, the alleged capitalists would enjoy monopoly and thus arbitrarily fix the prices of agricultural produce, while the cultivable land and crops would be usurped by them across the country.

While political pundits still consider Akhilesh Yadav-led SP better placed than Congress to put up a fight against the rollicking poll machinery of BJP due to the former’s stronger cadre base and organisational setup in UP, yet Priyanka could well provide the much-needed heft to the sagging morale of Congress and galvanise the GOP in a fighting fit state before the poll bugle is sounded.

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