Lucknow: An intense campaign, huge crowds, attractive slogans and charismatic leadership. Yet the Congress has hit rock bottom in Uttar Pradesh, putting a question mark on Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s leadership abilities.
The party is likely to end up with just two seats, compared to the seven it won in 2017.
The party has faced drubbing in its one-time bastions — Rae Bareli and Amethi — where the party has not won even a single seat.
When Priyanka announced 40 per cent reservation for women in tickets, many political pundits thought it would be a game-changer for the Congress.
However, the party turned this into a non-serious issue when it gave away tickets to victims of atrocities. The move earned accolades for the party, albeit temporarily, but none of the ‘victims’ could enlist public support and votes.
The battle for votes is strikingly different from a battle for emotions and this election has proved it.
Priyanka, when she opted for victims as candidates, was probably trying to replicate the success story of Phoolan Devi in the nineties.
Phoolan, who was a victim of gang-rape, was also charged with the massacre of 21 Thakurs in Behmai.
The then Samajwadi Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to field Phoolan for the Lok Sabha elections created more controversy than commendation but Phoolan did go on to become MP.
Priyanka fielded Asha Singh, mother of the 2017 Unnao rape survivor. Former BJP MLA, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who was convicted in the case in 2019, enjoys considerable influence in Unnao and even has sympathy since many believe he was wrongly convicted.
A four-term MLA, Sengar’s family had strongly opposed the ticket to Asha Singh who now lives in Delhi with her daughter.
“We have none in the family. I am fighting this election to get justice for my brother-in-law, and for all the victims of rape,” she had told reporters when she got the ticket.
Asha Singh turned her campaign into a personal battle rather than a political one and she has lost the polls.
Another player of the Congress victim card is Sadaf Jafar, who became the face of the anti-Citizen (Amendment) agitation in the state after she was kicked in her stomach. She contested the Lucknow central seat and lost.
The Congress fielded Ritu Singh from the Mohammadi seat in Lakhimpur. Ritu Singh hit the headlines when her sari was pulled off by the police personnel during the panchayat polls last year.
The leader of ASHA workers in state Poonam Pandey — who was allegedly assaulted by men in khaki when she tried to meet Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Shahjahanpur to voice the problems faced by the ASHAs in state — was fielded from Shahjahanpur.
Both Ritu Singh and Poonam Pandey lost without even putting up a decent fight.
Another victim candidate is Umbha’s tribal activist, Ram Raj Gond, who fought for the victims of the massacre in Obra in east Uttar Pradesh.
According to a senior party leader, “The experiment failed because these victims had not been trained to fight political battles. NGOs can help you fight for justice and get headlines but they cannot make you win elections. If Priyanka wanted to give 40 per cent tickets to women, she should have started preparing these women candidates, at least, a year ago.”
Another party functionary admitted that when tickets were being announced, the focus was to ensure 40 per cent representation to women and not on the quality of candidates.
The dismal performance of the Congress under Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s leadership is now bound to impact her future as a leader in the Congress.
The party, in her tenure, has already expelled several leaders while an even larger number has left the Congress, blaming the leadership — rather lack of it.
Its vote share has been on a steady decline. It was at about 6.25 per cent in the 2017 Assembly polls and has slipped to 2.4 per cent in this election.
The state of affairs in the party can be assessed for the fact that state party president Ajay Kumar Lallu has faced a humiliating defeat from the Tamkuhiraj seat where he trailed behind the BJP and SP candidates.