New Delhi: After passing away of Ahmed Patel, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has emerged trouble shooter within the party and all complainants are landing at her door with their grievances. Most recently, when Uttarakhand crisis loomed this week with former Chief Minister Harish Rawat targeting the party, Priyanka Gandhi stepped in to defuse the tension and placated the sulking leader.
This is not the first time the Gandhi sibling has managed crisis in the party.
She was instrumental in Punjab and was the main brain behind the removal of Amarinder Singh and installing Navjot Singh Sidhu in the party apparatus. She along with Rahul prevailed upon Ashok Gehlot to accommodate Sachin Pilot loyalists in the government.
After UP polls, analysts feel that the Congress will have to offer Priyanka Gandhi a bigger role to reach out to leaders who are not in sync with Rahul Gandhi. Moreover, to win back the disgruntled leaders and the G-23 group, most of the lot praised her for the fight she took up in UP after the Lakhimpur Kheri incident.
While she has been credited with making party visible in UP by raising issues at a short span of time, the current survey shows that Congress may not gain electorally in the state.
The party, however, is seeing her as star campaigner in future elections and her, ‘ladki hun lad sakti hun’ (I’m a girl and can fight) is attracting nationwide attention and the marathons conducted in getting massive registrations and the Congress sees it as a counter to religion and caste based politics.
At the time when the Congress general secretary got into campaign mode, the country’s attention was consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet her active intervention in Hathras and Sonbhadra got her noticed. And at the peak of the migrant crisis, her offer of buses to transport the affected people to their homes, earned her kudos.
During the farmers’ agitation, too, she was at the forefront, but then the second wave hit the nation.
With Uttar Pradesh going to polls for the next Assembly early next year along with Uttarakhand and Punjab, the Congress leadership is debating whether Priyanka should be assigned a more prominent, perhaps pan-India role in the party.
Several Congress leaders are vocal on this issue. One such person is Acharya Pramod Krishnam, who has been saying that Priyanka be made party president.
Others, who are not happy with the way Rahul Gandhi’s office functions, suggest that Sonia Gandhi should continue as party president and Priyanka be made vice-president in-charge of north India.
When the leadership crisis hit the Congress, there was a collegium to assist Sonia Gandhi. In September last year, a committee was set up with A.K. Antony, the late Ahmad Patel, Ambika Soni, K.C. Venugopal, Mukul Wasnik and Randeep Singh Surjewala as members. After the death of Patel, however, the committee has been meeting occasionally. The Congress constitution has no provision for a vice-president, but in the past Rahul Gandhi, Arjun Singh and Jitendra Prasada had held this position.
Some Congress leaders believe that Priyanka Gandhi’s style of functioning is smoother. She’s an attentive listener and has been active in defusing crises in Rajasthan and Punjab.
The Congress is mired in infighting in a number of states — Uttrakhand, Punjab, UP, Goa, Manipur and Gujarat, which are preparing to go to polls in 2022 while MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2023, so a bigger role for her means the party could bring more traction.
A section of the Congress leadership points out that Rahul Gandhi can lead the party without holding any post. These leaders say he has been targeting the government on various issues. Even his critics accept his credentials for mounting attacks on the Prime Minister consistently on the pandemic and economic crisis.
The party is facing crises in Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttrakhand, Karnataka, and the supporters of T.S. Singhdeo in Chhattisgarh will press the demand that he be made the chief minister after five state elections. His supporters, though, insist that the party must fulfil its assurance to the leader who was instrumental in winning seats in the tribal belt of the state, which was with the BJP at that time.
Similarly, Sachin Pilot is pushing for change in Rajasthan and the party cannot afford to lose him after Jyotiraditya Scindia walked out and was rewarded with a berth in the Modi Cabinet.