Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, considered by many to be the true political successor of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, finally embraced her entry into politics on Monday with great pomp and show in the state that sends the maximum number of MPs — 80 — to Lok Sabha and decides who will form the government in Delhi.
Ms Vadra embarked on a roadshow, her first public event after being appointed the party’s general secretary, eastern Uttar Pradesh, atop a modified truck that drove through the streets of Lucknow as her party launched its Lok Sabha campaign in the state. She was accompanied by her brother and party president Rahul Gandhi.
The four-and-a-half hour roadshow, which drew thousands along its 25-km-long route through congested areas in the Old City, helped the Congress create a buzz in the crucial state.
All along the roadshow’s route, Ms Vadra — dressed in a kurta-churidar — and Mr Gandhi waved at cheering supporters who chanted their names while dancing to drums, while others jostled for a glimpse of her and showered rose petals and garlands. Many wore pink T-shirts emblazoned with her picture and some took selfies with the new star of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
Eastern UP is home to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Varanasi constituency and chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s base, Gorakhpur.
A day before her roadshow, Ms Vadra said she hopes to start a “new kind of politics” in which everyone will be a stakeholder.
In 2014, the Congress just managed to retain the Gandhi family’s constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli, as compared to the 21 seats it had won five years earlier. The party’s vote share also dropped by almost 50 per cent between 2009 and 2014.
Monday’s roadshow was her first campaign outside the Gandhi family constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. Coinciding with her roadshow was Ms Vadra’s arrival on Twitter on Monday.
“Come, let’s build a new future, new politics with me. Thank you,” she said in her Twitter debut that came few hours before the Lucknow roadshow.
Accompanied by Mr Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia, in-charge of UP’s western region, Ms Vadra arrived at the Lucknow airport in the afternoon to a rousing reception by party workers.
During the roadshow, Mr Gandhi asked the crowd to repeat his “chowkidar chor hai” (guard is the thief) barb against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the Congress’ corruption allegation in the Rafale fighter jet.
Mr Gandhi alleged that the Prime Minister has “stolen” money from Uttar Pradesh and other states to benefit industrialist Anil Ambani, a charge repeatedly denied by the government and Mr Ambani’s Reliance Group.
Setting his eyes on dislodging the BJP, Mr Gandhi told party workers, “Congress started in UP and it cannot stay weak here. Priyanka Gandhi and Jyotiarditya Scindia will make Congress strong in UP again.”
Using a cricket analogy, he said the Congress will play on the front foot and not on the back foot in the state.
“Till a Congress ideology government is installed here (UP), we will not sit idle and ensure justice to the farmers, the youth, the poor,” he added.
The Gandhi siblings had to switch from their modified truck to an SUV halfway through the roadshow as their entourage entered the congested lanes of the city. They sat cross-legged on the SUV’s roof and resumed waving. They also stopped for hot tea and to chat with people along the route.
The Gandhi siblings were welcomed by a plethora of posters and billboards, many of which featured Indira Gandhi.
Party sources said that over the next three to four days, Ms Vadra is likely to frequent the party office and chair daily meetings on specific constituencies of the 40-odd Lok Sabha seats that she is incharge of.
Being pitched as a big draw with her charisma and voter connect, the Congress hopes Ms Vadra can come to the rescue of the party in the state. The party was almost wiped out in the state during 2014 Lok Sabha polls as the BJP swept 73 of 80 seats from the state.
In 2014, the vote share of the Congress in Eastern UP was 9.8 per cent as compared to BJP’s 40.7 per cent and SP-BSP’s 40.4 per cent. In Western UP, the Congress vote share was 7 per cent. The BJP’s vote share was 45.7 per cent and SP-BSP’s share was 43.2 per cent.