When Congress leader Rahul Gandhi last week made a statement in Kerala about different nature of politics in North and South India, he was strongly criticised by the Bharatiya Janata Party president, J P Nadda, for dividing the country.
Whatever may be BJP’s interpretation, the fact is that the brother and sister—Rahul and Priyanka—appear to have divided India among themselves for reviving the Congress party’s fortune.
In the last several weeks Rahul has been concentrating mostly in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and even Puducherry—though he had visited Assam and plans to make trips to West Bengal too–while Priyanka is taking extra-ordinary interest in the politics of Uttar Pradesh after the lockdown norms were relaxed last year.
Ever since her decision to visit Hathras on October 3 and meet the family members of the victim girl to February 27 trip to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Banaras, on the occasion of Sant Ravidas Jayanti she had made about a dozen of forays into India’s most populated state, which is going to poll early in 2022. Sant Ravidas, it must be noted has a large following among Dalits of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and other parts of north India.
No doubt in Hathras she was accompanied by Rahul, but in other journeys she went alone. Priyanka is trying to make a direct connect with the masses by addressing big Kisan Mahapanchayats. On February 4 she, along with a large number of Congress workers and leaders as well as common masses met the family members of Navneet Singh, a Sikh youth from a farming family of Rampur in UP, who died during the Tractors’ Rally in New Delhi on January 26. Here she equated 25-year old Navneet with her 20-year old son.
In between she paid a visit to Prayag on February 21, where she met Nishads (Boatmen) who were being harassed by local policemen. She took a holy dip in the Sangam (confluence of Ganga and Yamuna). Mind it, Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru originally come from this city which was earlier known as Allahabad.
On March 1 she would be in poll-bound Assam where the Congress-led alliance is now in position to pose a big challenge to the BJP-Asom Gana Parishad combine which only on February 27 lost the third partner, the Bodoland Peoples’ Front. The BPF has joined hands with the Congress-led Mahajath.
As Priyanka has grown quite mature old-timers have started seeing in her the glimpses of her grand-mother, Indira Gandhi.
Exactly the same strategy is being adopted by her brother, Rahul, in Kerala and to some extent Tamil Nadu. Unlike Priyanka, he is an MP from Wayanad in the state and has to a large extent, succeeded in hewing out his own place in the heart and mind of a sizeable section of the electorate. As a mark of showing solidarity towards farmers Rahul drove a tractor for six kilometres in his constituency. He is rubbing shoulders with the common-folk and raising the problems of the fishermen of the two poll-bound states of South India which have a long coast-line. As a symbolic gesture he even swam in the sea with fishermen.
It is not that Priyanka would not fly down to South for election campaign and Rahul would not address election rallies in two states of the East. But at least for present they are undertaking all these exercises as a part of well-thought-out plan.
The siblings are not only fighting the formidable rival, the BJP, but they have to prove their point before the Group of 23 Congress leaders who are now, in one way or the other, challenging them. At least half of their leaders met at Jammu on February 27 with the common rant that the Congress is growing weak as it has become leaderless. Only on February 28 one of them, Ghulam Nabi Azad, showered praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Rahul, it seems, is not the least bothered about them as he knows that most of these leaders have no following of their own and are Rajya Sabha material.
If the DMK-Congress alliance wins in Tamil Nadu, as it is most likely, and the Congress manages to improve its position in Kerala and Assam—even if it does not register an outright victory—it would be a big morale-booster for the brother-sister combine.
The revival of Congress in UP would certainly increase its bargaining position if it goes in alliance with the Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Lok Dal.
If the BJP is closely watching Priyanka in UP, Samajwadis and RLD leaders are a bit alarmed. The Bahujan Samaj Party supremo, Mayawati, who has repeatedly been losing elections since 2012, has a lot to worry.
In South, the BJP has some small consolation as it has no big base in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.