Priyanka Gandhi gets into rigorous damage control mode in wake of her party’s eroding popularity ahead of the polls, reports Renu Mittal
Even though the ruling Congress looks politically down ahead of the Lok Sabha elections 2014, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is doing all in her power to ensure that it’s not out. Along with a team of confidantes, she has put in place a well-coordinated machinery both in the Centre and the states even as Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul are busy campaigning.
The party has commissioned an internal survey covering the entire country, which looks closely at individual seats and the criteria of their winnablity. It is learnt that based on the results of that survey conducted by a reputed agency, which is considered be both accurate and credible, by the Congress leadership, Priyanka will decide the funding for various seats.
Insiders tell rediff.com that the Congress leadership is willing to spend money on seats, which have been categorised in the “winning” category -- funds worth of Rs 1 crore per seat. Those seats, which come a close second, and where the party leadership feels that a strong push can take it closer to a victory, will also get a monetary boost. And for those constituencies that are ranked No 3 by the agency and where these is little hope for the Congress, not more than Rs 25 lakh will be spent.
The survey is expected to be kept a closely guarded document, possibly being shared only between five Congress leaders -- Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka, Jitendra Singh (Union minister of state for defence) and Suman Dubey (former IAS officer and head of the Congress’s Dalit-tribal department), all part of the core committee.
The party has also set up control rooms in all the states and protocol committees to attend to various leaders campaigning for elections. This team will arrange the stay and travel of campaigners, among other things. Also, put in place are programme and media committees.
Priyanka has emphasised on co-ordination between party leaders, the All India Congress Committee, Pradesh Congress Committee and a number of other sub-committees have been formed in each state to ensure the smooth functioning of the election process.
GPS machines have been dispatched to track helicopters stationed in each state keeping in mind the phase of the election. With stringent Election Commission rules for helicopters and expenses, a delay of a second means the helicopter is off target by 5 km and this would create unnecessary hurdles and hence GPS machines for exact locations.
For example, the nominations for the first phase end on March 19 and the withdrawal date is March 22. The campaign kicks off on March 22 and so helicopters required for the first phase would be deployed by then. With it being mandatory to hire each helicopter for five hours, the party is looking at a minimum expense of Rs 5 lakh per helicopter whether it is being flown or not.
Sources tell rediff.com that since Rahul and Sonia would be busy campaigning, the entire logistics of the election machinery is being looked after by Priyanka. This includes funding, election management, co-ordination and various other decisions such as the campaign plans for leaders.
The AICC control room is being expanded to include a big committee that would assist Priyanka. Even though the original election strategy committee meets once in a week, much of the decision making power has been taken over by her.
Sources say Priyanka is also looking at the final lists of candidates before they are released and if there are serious charges against an MP or against a candidate who has been short-listed they are brought to her notice.
The manifesto would be released by Sonia on March 21 where the Congress is expected to promise the right to health and possibly the right to livelihood with the aim to ensure that it impacts voters.
A senior leader told rediff.com, “In the wake of the eroding popular support for the Congress after 10 years of being in power, Priyanka is trying to ensure that the party does not perform as miserably as is being projected as this could spell trouble for Rahul.”
Images: Priyanka Gandhi interacts with Congress supporters at Amethi, Uttar Pradesh