Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s appointment as All India Congress Committee General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh East is a flawed move that could hurt the Congress in the forthcoming general election, for several reasons.
First, her appointment will give ammunition to the Bharatiya Janata Party to reinforce the idea among potential voters that the “dynasty” desires to perpetuate its control over the “family-owned” organisation that is the Congress Party. This is especially because, like her brother and the Congress President, Rahul Gandhi, Ms. Vadra lacks experience and seniority within the party as well as broader political engagement. Indian voters, who are more politically savvy than they are given credit for, could thus be expected to be further turned off by the dynasty’s dominance of the Congress.
Second, she carries negative baggage owing to her husband Robert Vadra’s alleged involvement in land scams. Whether true or not, most people believe he is guilty of engaging in shady deals because he felt immune from legal action as the son-in-law of the dynasty. His negative image has rubbed off on Ms. Vadra and this can tarnish the party’s image in an election year.
Third, eastern U.P., which is supposed to be Ms. Vadra’s turf in the run-up to the elections, is a political minefield for the Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is highly invested in the region given that his constituency, Varanasi, is located here. The constituency of the State Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, which is Gorakhpur, is also in eastern U.P. Further, both the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have strong bases of support here, especially among the Backward Castes, Dalits and Muslims — a significant portion of the overall electorate of the region.
The Congress’s performance in eastern U.P. has been dismal in past elections. Given that the SP and the BSP seem to have decided to have no truck with the Congress in the run up to the general election, they will perceive the Congress’s attempt to poach their territory, adversely. Without a seat-sharing arrangement with the SP-BSP alliance, the party is likely to fare badly in 2019. That could further sully Ms. Vadra’s image as a political organiser, dooming prospects of her future leadership.
Further, in the unlikely event that the Congress under Ms. Vadra garners a reasonable share of the anti-BJP vote in eastern U.P., it will increase the BJP’s prospects of returning to power since the anti-BJP vote will be divided between the SP-BSP combine on the one hand and the Congress on the other. This will defeat the major goal of the Congress, which is to deny the BJP another term at the Centre. Either way the Congress’s prospects of coming to power at the Centre at the head of an anti-BJP coalition will be frustrated.
Thus, Ms. Vadra’s elevation within the party is likely to backfire as far as Congress’s electoral prospects are concerned. Rahul Gandhi and his advisers should have objectively evaluated the downside of this decision before taking the plunge.
The writer is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University