Days after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s brief presence at a high level Congress meeting triggered speculation on the possibility of her playing a bigger role in the party in the run-up to the general elections, the Congress clarified on Monday that she would campaign only in Raebareli and Amethi, the Lok Sabha constituencies of her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh, as she had done in the last few elections.
“She will campaign only in Raebareli and Amethi,” Congress general secretary and chairman of the party’s communication department Ajay Maken said responding to queries about the younger Gandhi sibling’s future.
Mr. Maken’s explanation became necessary as Ms. Priyanka’s participation — however brief — had caused both confusion and expectation in the party rank and file, coming as it in the midst of reports suggesting that her brother would soon be named the Congress’s prime ministerial candidate.
There are also many in the party who believe that the sister is more charismatic than the brother, and who read the report as evidence of her beginning to play a bigger role, perhaps campaign all over the country, or even contest a Lok Sabha seat.
It was necessary to scotch those rumours, as the party’s efforts to downplay Ms. Priyanka’s presence at the meeting — stressing that she has always been active in the party’s politics and even questioning the surprise in political circles over her interaction with senior leaders — seemed not to have any impact on the media. The meeting Ms. Priyanka had participated at her brother’s Tughlak Lane residence – in his absence – was, after all, attended by party president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel, Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, Congress general secretaries Madhusudan Mistry, Janardan Dwivedi, Ajay Maken and party ideologue Mohan Gopal.
Indeed, after Mr. Maken’s clarification, when party spokesperson Raj Babbar was asked the same question, he said tersely: “The matter ends if the chairman of the Communication Department has given a statement. The Chairman has told you about the decision of the party. There is no need to say anything further on it.”
Congress sources said that the three Gandhis — mother son and daughter — take all decisions about their roles together, and while Ms. Priyanka has been her brother Rahul’s closest adviser, there is no question of a strategy in which she could eclipse him. After the last Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2012, when the Congress lost all five Assembly segments in Rae Bareli and two in Amethi, Ms. Priyanka’s visits increased. Party sources, however, said she would coordinate the country-wide tour programmes of the Congress president and vice-president.
Meanwhile, speculation in the party on whether or not Mr. Gandhi will be named the party’s prime ministerial candidate at the AICC meeting on January 17 continued. Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh’s statement advocating caution on making the call has caused more confusion. “I have been consistently saying that we are a parliamentary democracy and here it is not a contest between key personalities. It’s a contest between policies, ideologies and programmes of parties,” Mr. Singh said on Friday. In a parliamentary system, the leader of the party that secured a majority was chosen by newly elected MPs, he said. “And then he becomes Prime Minister… That is the age-old practice... However, party president Sonia Gandhi has given an indication on December 8... If the Congress wants to declare (the PM candidate), it is okay.”
Mr. Singh’s stand differs from that of other senior leaders, such as that of Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who said on December 30, 2013, that the Congress should project its PM candidate for the 2014 general elections.
The party top brass is clearly divided on the advisability of making the announcement now but, as more than one Congress functionary said, if there was a demand from the floor on January 17, then the announcement would have to be made, even if the leadership was against the timing.