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Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to be in-charge of the party’s affairs in eastern UP, will take charge from February first week

For long, the Congress party has seen Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the ‘brahmastra’ it can use when faced with an insurmountable challenge. The last five years have seen the Congress party’s electoral fortunes crumble in the face of a steady anti-Congress sentiment drummed up by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With less than 100 days to go for the Lok Sabha polls, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has perhaps realized that it is time to use the ‘brahmastra’ (the mythical weapon in Hindu texts that never misses its target).

On January 23 (Wednesday), after years of speculation over her entry into active politics, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has been drafted into the All India Congress Committee as General Secretary, the same designation that was given to her elder brother Rahul when he first joined the party organization over 15 years ago.

A press communiqué issued by the AICC announcing various appointments made by Rahul to the AICC said: “Congress president has also appointed Smt Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as AICC General Secretary for Uttar Pradesh East. She will be taking charge with effect on first week of February 2019 (sic).” Priyanka is currently on a foreign visit and is likely to take over her new responsibility shortly after she returns to New Delhi on February 1.

India Legal had first reported in August 2018, that Priyanka’s entry into active politics was now imminent and that she had already been roped in by her brother to revive the Congress War Room – the party’s poll strategy office at 15, Gurudwara Rakab Ganj Road – and monitor drafting of the vision document and manifesto for the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Sources told India Legal that Priyanka has been interacting with various heads of AICC departments and frontal organizations for the past six months and discussing specific tasks for them to ensure a more active party organization at the grassroots. A team of party leaders – mix of old hands and those who have gained Rahul’s confidence recently – have been assisting Priyanka in the task. Key among these names are Sam Pitroda, Jairam Ramesh, Rajeev Gowda and former SBI director Deepak Amin. Priyanka had also been advising Rahul directly on issues that he should take up in his poll campaigns and also his interventions during debates in Parliament.

Sources say that the aggressive stance that Rahul has been taking against Modi on a host of issues lately, both inside Parliament and at party events, while stressing that he may disagree with his political rivals but has “love” for them in his heart, is also the result of Priyanka’s counseling.

By granting her an official position within the party organization, Rahul has signaled that his party will now pull all stops to ensure that its electoral fortunes are on the uptick before the Lok Sabha polls. With UP accounting for 80 of the Lok Sabha’s 543 seats and having contributed 71 seats to the BJP’s kitty in 2014, giving Priyanka specific responsibility of party affairs in the state is a hard gamble. By making her in charge of eastern UP – pocketborough of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath – the Congress has signaled that the Nehru-Gandhi family is now ready to take the battle to the rival camp.

Priyanka’s appointment also comes close on the heels of the Congress deciding to not be part of the SP-BSP coalition in the state for the upcoming general elections. The SP and BSP both have their pockets of influence primarily in western and central UP and in the Bundelkhand region while the BJP largely holds sway in eastern districts of the state. Sources say that the Congress’s decision to not join the SP-BSP alliance was borne out of its calculated strategy to have Priyanka lead the campaign in eastern UP and consolidate support for the party in areas where the BJP is strong.

The next step for Priyanka, always seen as the more politically astute sibling, is likely to be contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Rae Bareli, the seat currently held by her mother Sonia Gandhi, who may opt out of electoral politics citing her poor health.

Other appointments made by Rahul:

Besides Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Rahul has also approved a minor reshuffle of the party organization, focusing largely on Uttar Pradesh.

With Congress general secretary in charge of the party organization, Ashok Gehlot being sworn in as chief minister of Rajasthan recently, Rahul has brought in his confidante KC Venugopal to take over the role. Besides serving as AICC general secretary (organization), Venugopal will continue to be in-charge of party affairs in Karnataka.

Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia who had lost out to Kamal Nath in the race for Madhya Pradesh chief minister recently has also been appointed AICC general secretary and been given charge of party affairs in Western UP with immediate effect.

Meanwhile, senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who had been serving as AICC general secretary for Uttar Pradesh, has been divested of this role and given charge of Haryana.

It is pertinent to note that the decision to appoint general secretaries in charge of specific regions in UP instead of having one official looking after party affairs in the entire state was also a strategy suggested by Priyanka. In the coming weeks, Rahul is also expected to announce at least two more general secretaries who will look after party affairs in others parts of UP.

— India Legal Bureau

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