The Congress on Sunday projected Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as its face for the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. At a Kisan Nyay rally in Rohania, Varanasi, Priyanka was projected as a lone crusader for justice while other challengers to the BJP were dismissed as compromised opportunists.
Samajwadi Party leader and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was singled out and accused of surrendering to the BJP’s coercive politics, an indication that the Congress was willing to go solo this election, due next March.
Priyanka’s post of general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh does not automatically make her the party’s face for the state election. But Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, the AICC observer for Uttar Pradesh, told the rally: “The RSS-BJP incites people in the name of religion. Who fights for your rights; who fights for your welfare?
“Who will you stand with -- those who fight for your rights or those who crush your rights? Support Priyanka, the next government will be formed under her leadership.”
Priyanka asked people to answer one question honestly. “Ask yourself this question: has your life improved? Have they (the BJP) fulfilled their promises? If not, come with me; stand with me. I will not stop until I usher in real change.”
In the end, this was the admission that she had taken up the challenge to confront Adityanath, shedding any inhibitions stemming from apprehensions about the outcome
The Congress, which last won an Uttar Pradesh election in 1985 and now commands barely 8 per cent of the vote share, has a long way to go in terms of organisational muscle. But Uttar Pradesh has defied political logic in the last three elections by giving decisive mandates successively to the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadis and the BJP.
The Congress is scanning the skies for that ray of hope from the ruins of Uttar Pradesh. Although the stated purpose of the meeting was to seek justice for the farmers – both in the context of the new farm laws and the Lakhimpur Kheri atrocity --- the atmospherics left little doubt that it marked the launch of the Congress election campaign with Priyanka as its mascot.
All the speakers dwelt on her commitment to the welfare of the state and her sustained fight for justice.
Former MP Rajesh Mishra said: “No other Opposition leader was seen fighting for the people during the last four years. Whenever she raised her voice, the Yogi (Adityanath) government had to pay heed. She fearlessly fought on the streets.”
Another senior leader, Ajai Rai, described Priyanka as the saviour of Uttar Pradesh and said the state had finally got a leader. State Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu described Priyanka as the commander leading the fight against “goonda raj” in the state.
“The rule of law has been destroyed in the state. Yogi is practising the politics of repression. Priyanka has taken it on herself to end this misrule,” he said.
“From Sonbhadra to Unnao, Hathras and Lakhimpur, she has been like the sun rising against the darkness. She showed the same concern during the CAA-NRC struggle as well.”
Lallu added: “Will you support those who surrendered to the BJP and hid in the safe confines of their homes, or Priyanka who fought for your cause? Akhilesh Yadav was scared of criticising the BJP. He hid in his home. His fight has been symbolic. Priyanka is committed to freeing the state of goonda raj. Come, support her in this mission.”
Deepender Hooda lauded Priyanka’s courage and determination.
“India’s soul was crushed under the wheels in Lakhimpur Kheri and Priyanka was the first leader to raise her voice,” he said. “Ek taraf satta khadi hai, doosri taraf satya khada hai. On one hand is arrogance and the brutality of power, on the other is the force of morality. We expect every citizen to stand with Priyanka in this battle.”
Priyanka herself built a strong case against the Adityanath government, alleging justice was impossible under his rule. Recalling Sonbhadra, where tribal people had been killed for land, as well as Unnao, Hathras and Lakhimpur, she said: “People wanted justice in each case, not compensation. But there is no scope for justice under this regime. A minister’s son crushes innocent farmers and the government stands with the perpetrators instead of delivering justice. The Prime Minister comes to Lucknow but shows no concern. He refused to meet the families of the farmers.”
Priyanka said: “They are celebrating Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. The farmers gave us freedom. Freedom has no meaning if citizens can’t expect justice.
“The nation’s foundations rest on the hope for justice. That’s the constitutional spirit. But justice is not given anywhere in the country. Where will the people go if the chief minister and the Prime Minister side with the minister whose son mowed down farmers?”
Priyanka also referred to subjects such as unemployment and the rising prices apart from the dangers of the new farm laws.
She regretted that a segment of citizens felt that Narendra Modi had bolstered people’s sense of security.“That’s a myth. Nobody is secure except Modi’s friends. Women are unsafe, the poor are losing their livelihood, Dalits and minorities are unsafe. The country is being destroyed,” she said.
“Look at the truth hidden behind the propaganda. This is no longer about elections; this is about the country. Who will save the country? Don’t get misled by their politics. Save your country. The Congress is not scared; Congress cannot be silenced. Nobody can frighten us.