Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi seems to have taken up the much-desired task of bringing a dormant Congress party back to life in the country's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, where it has been out of power for 32 years.
While it may be too much to assume that the party will be able to get anywhere close to returning to power, there can be no denying that Priyanka's sustained effort could put the party back on its feet in the state where it was reduced to a paltry seven seats (out of the state's 403) in the last state assembly election in 2017 and just one seat (out of the state's 80) in the Lok Sabha poll of 2019.
The Lakhimpur violence on October 4 that took eight lives , including that of four farmers who were run brutally over by an SUV , allegedly at the behest of ruling BJP supporters , has come in handy for Priyanka to show her real mettle now.
Priyanka who was then made general secretary – in charge of UP , had failed to deliver essentially because of her exceedingly restrained visits to the state . Even after being entrusted with a such a big responsibility, she could not keep her word of camping permanently on the UP soil. In fact, neither she not Jyotiraditya Scindia , who had also been given charge of another half of UP, were visible on the ground. Sure enough, that got reflected in the extremely poor result in the election.
Taking a cue from that, probably Priyanka has decided to take the bull by its horn this time . And what she has done already quite instinctively has earned her the sobriquet of a "street-fighter" –something that has not been witnessed in any prominent Congressman over the past many years.
In fact she was the first politician to make a serious attempt to reach Lakhimpur, no sooner than news broke out about the killing of farmers. She was followed by the police right from the time she landed at Lucknow airport. On reaching her relative's house where she camps in Lucknow, the cops piled up outside the gate, while making it loud and clear to her that she was not allowed to visit Lakhimpur.
After about an hour in the night , she managed to quietly sneak out of the bungalow from the rear gate and walk more than 500 metres, where she boarded an awaiting car which drove her to the national highway leading to Lakhimpur. As soon as the police realized that she had hoodwinked them, a cat and mouse chase began. Cops stopped all traffic at a toll barrier on NH -24, where they began checking vehicles to find Priyanka.
Here she played another smart game by switching from her SUV into a small car. And that strategy worked. While the police remained busy checking only SUVs and bigger vehicles , the tiny car in which she had perched herself drove away unchecked .
What she did thereafter was to take a detour through rural roads instead of the main highway. However, after covering a good 60 km , she was finally intercepted by the police and taken into custody. She withstood a night-long ordeal, following which she was deposited at a government guest house in Sitapur, that was formally declared as a "temporary jail", around 4.30 am on October 5.
She fought relentlessly against denial of permission to move on to Lakhimpur for more than two days, after which the government gave in. Thousands of recharged Congress workers had gathered outside the guest house protesting against her arrest.
Once the state government yielded , even other opposition leaders who had, by then raised their demand to visit Lakhimpur, were allowed to proceed. She clearly scored over all others. Samajawdi Party chief and former UP chief Jminister Akhilesh Yadav followed course only on the following day.
As if she works on instinct, Priyanka's reaction to chief minister Yogi Adityanath's condescending remark about her sweeping the floor of the guest house room where she was detained by the police, literally silenced the chief minister. "She is incapable of doing anything other than sweeping floors", was Yogi's curt remark to Priyanka's video that went viral. She hit back by saying, "Yogi Adityanath's remark against my sweeping reflects his anti Dalit mentality; he considers sweeping a demeaning act, which shows his mindset", came her retort, which left the UP CM completely dumbfounded.
On the other hand, Priyanka did not stop there . Three days later, on her return to Lucknow, she went to a local Dalit locality and personally swept the floor of a Valmiki temple there. She also made an announcement that all district Congress chiefs would go sweeping in Dalit localities in their respective towns .
This streak in her is being seen as some kind of reflection of her grand-mother India Gandhi's genes.
These episodes have certainly recharged Congressmen, no matter how few they might be. However, her handicap is the lack of an active and widespread party organization, which she is now trying to rebuild. Though it may be rather late in the day to start that exercise, since state elections are barely four months away, still the effort is not likely to go waste.
Priyanka has found yet another way to inject some life into the party and its workers. She got four small booklets prepared with very crispy content to counter the malicious campaign undertaken by BJP and RSS over the years to run down the Congress and its leadership.
One of the booklets titled, 'Hum Congress ke Log – Dushprachar aur Sach' talks about the contribution of various top Congressmen involved in the freedom movement . Another booklet titled, 'Bharat aur Bhartiyata ki khilaf RSS aur BJP ' is devoted to 'exposing the role of various saffron leaders whose acts were against the fundamental ethos of Indianess and nationalism'.
Another booklet titled, "Zimmedar Kaun' is focused on just showing facts relating to the first and second wave of Covid-19 and its alleged mismanagement by the Modi government.
The fourth booklet – 'Kisne bigara Uttar Pradesh' is a pointer towards alleged scams during different BJP regimes, besides such schemes of these government that were potently against farmers, youth as also the economically weak and downtrodden in society.
While there can be no denying that such effort was not made by any Congress leaders in many years, what remains to be seen is the impact that this can make to bringing the party out of the woods at the crucial March 2022 state elections.