In a big political scoop emerging from Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra could be fielded by the Congress party against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the battle for the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat.
According to sources in the Congress camp, Priyanka Vadra has given her nod for the contest, with the final decision now resting with party president Rahul Gandhi. Furthermore, certain leaders of the Opposition are also insistent that the Congress General Secretary for UP East takes the battle directly to PM Modi. As per sources, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu, who is currently in New Delhi, has had a word with Rahul Gandhi and told him to declare Priyanka as a candidate. Congress-ally NCP has also made the same request.
1. Other Opposition parties: While the TDP and NCP are in favour of her contesting against Narendra Modi, they have little stake in Uttar Pradesh. Far more important is the view of the state's two regional heavyweights - the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). If Priyanka Vadra does contest the Varanasi seat, Congress wants her to be the joint-Opposition candidate, meaning that not only will the Gathbandhan be required to not field its own candidate but also, the Congress would hope, help her bring in the votes. Given the significance of the battle to the Opposition's chances against the BJP overall, however, the Congress is likely to have a fairly strong argument in its arsenal.
2. Would SP-BSP be wary of Priyanka?: While the two parties eventually excluded the Congress from their Gathbandhan - the 2017 assembly election debacle likely still fresh in their memories - they decided to not field candidates against Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi in Amethi and Rae Bareli respectively lest they ruin the seniormost Congress leaders' chances. However, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's entry into U.P politics may be viewed as much more of a threat to them directly, especially if they help prop her up in the battle against Narendra Modi.
3. What if Priyanka Vadra loses?: An electoral contest against Narendra Modi in Varanasi could easily end in disaster for Priyanka Vadra, as it had for Arvind Kejriwal when he had pitted his own 'Aam Aadmi' movement against the 'Modi wave' in 2014. There are a number of similarities between Kejriwal 2014 and Priyanka 2019. Kejriwal was on a high, having given up being CM of New Delhi to take on the BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate. Priyanka Vadra battling Modi has also been similarly heralded, especially within her own party cadre. If she loses, the Congress would have to swallow defeat the same way Kejriwal had, following which his party has been unable to break out of New Delhi. It would also take the sheen off the Congress trump card going forward.
4. What would it mean for Rahul himself?: There are a number of factors in Priyanka Vadra's favour, her purported resemblance to former PM Indira Gandhi being chief among them. She's also got a blemish-free electoral record, having never contested earlier, and is cited even within her own party as having a better connect with the people than Rahul Gandhi, who until the assembly elections in end-2018 had witnessed little success at the polls. If she were to do well, what would it mean for Rahul Gandhi's own standing within the Congress? Would Priyanka Vadra then emerge as another power centre in the eyes of her partymembers, and would that constitute an undermining of Rahul Gandhi? Conversely, as fielding Priyanka against the Prime Minister would mean that the Congress legitimately takes the lead in taking on the BJP, would it make her the joint-Opposition's figurehead irrespective of the Congress president?
5. The Robert Vadra factor: The BJP's first response to the development, from MP Meenakshi Lekhi, was a stated interest in the election affidavit Priyanka Vadra may file and what its contents could be, especially the spousal assets. The Vadra factor is an albatross around Priyanka's neck, as was evidenced in February as the Congress was forced to coincide her first day as a formal Congress leader with Vadra's appearance before the ED in a money laundering case. Will scrutiny of her documents lead to further controversy?