With Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi visiting the families of four persons who died in Bundelkhand’s Lalitpur while purportedly waiting in a queue to purchase fertilisers, the Congress is scaling up its visibility in the run-up to assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, a state where it has been virtually absent for three decades now.
Priyanka tweeted later that she met the distraught families to share their pain. She also attacked the UP government over what she called acute fertiliser shortage in this backward region that cuts across UP and MP.
The Congress said she met the families of four farmers—Bhogi Pal (55), Sohi Ahirwar (40), Mahesh Kumar Bunker (36) and Bablu Pal (40). Two of them had purportedly died in fertiliser queues and two had allegedly committed suicide as they could not get fertilisers.
Three among the victims are from the most backward castes and one is Dalit—groups that all parties are trying to woo. However, the BJP has a better grip on the extremely backward castes as of now—the Samajwadi Party is trying to dent that base of the BJP—while the BSP has a grip over the Dalit Ahirwars, a name used in this region for Mayawati’s own caste.
“It is unlikely to make an impact. They no longer have ground-level Dalit leaders through whom Dalits can access power through representatives of their caste,” says JNU sociologist Vivek Kumar, who specialises on UP. “And the Congress also seems nowhere close to power in UP. So, how will these visits translate into votes?”
Saying that Priyanka’s visibility is welcome, Kumar cautions that none of this can translate into votes without a robust party organisation or second-rung leaders, who are nowhere to be seen.
“Priyanka is aiming at visibility and wants to be seen as standing for a host of constituencies like peasants, women, and now also Dalits and extremely backward castes. The idea is to convert visibility into charisma,” says Badri Narayan, another academic specialising on UP. “However, how will that convert into votes? Perhaps the attempt is not to place the Congress as a player in the present elections, but to position it organisationally in the long run in the state.”
Priyanka’s recent activities do suggest a conscious attempt to reach out to farmers and women, as Narayan says. After having been detained on her way to Lakhimpur Kheri when four farmers were mowed down allegedly by a vehicle owned by Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra ‘Teni’—and demanding arrest warrants from cops, while also warning them that they would be charged under various sections if they stopped her illegally—she was photographed visiting women farmers in Barabanki six days back. She briefed them on the party’s schemes for women’s empowerment ahead of the UP polls early next year.
“I want to understand their working conditions, how they are raising their daughters and if they are able to educate them,” Priyanka—around whom the Congress has come up with the slogan Ladki Hoon, Lad Sakti Hoon (I am a girl; I can fight) —told the media.
Her increased visibility in UP does suggest that the party is looking to build its own organisation in the long run and does not want to be seen as a minor player among the anti-BJP political forces, symbolised mainly by the SP and to an extent by the BSP and RLD, in the state.