Why Uttar Pradesh is the mother of all elections
Priyanka's decision to campaign all over the state for her brother only goes to underscore the high stakes that the UP election entails for Rahul Gandhi, says Neerja Chowdhury
Priyanka Vadra's offer to campaign for her brother all over Uttar Pradesh, if Rahul so desires, has reopened the electoral game in Uttar Pradesh.
It could throw all existing poll calculations awry in what has emerged as the mother of all elections.
In the way she has articulated her offer -- I'll do whatever Rahul wants me to do" -- Priyanka has made it clear that she is not entering active politics herself but is willing to assist her brother in what he wants to achieve in UP.
While Rahul comes across as sincere, his style has been understated. Priyanka's body language, on the other hand, exudes a natural, born-to-rule air. It is small wonder that other parties have already started to attack the Gandhi duo.
Priyanka's foray in Rae Bareli in 1999 had been the undoing of Arun Nehru, who as the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate had been confident of winning the election but had slid to the fourth position after Priyanka took him on and backed the Congress's Satish Sharma.
Since 2004, Priyanka had confined herself to looking after the constituencies of her mother and brother, Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively, ever since India's First family decided that that it would be Rahul and not Priyanka in politics.
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Image: Rahul Gandhi with sister Priyanka Vadra
Rahul is seen as the PM candidate in 2014
In the last seven years, she has kept in the shadows, taking care of her family, while Rahul entered Parliament, went on to become the party's general secretary and of late, decided to take the bull by the horn in UP.
He is seen as the prime ministerial candidate of the Congress in 2014.
Priyanka's decision to campaign all over the state for her brother only goes to underscore the high stakes that the UP election entails for Rahul.
Historically, politically and emotionally, UP, as heartland of India, has had a significance all its own. The state has provided India nine prime ministers, many of them enthroned for more than one term.
Popularly, the route to Delhi is seen as going through Lucknow. With its 80 Lok Sabha seats, UP has set the tone for national discourse.
However, its place in the political scheme of things got downgraded with the onset of the coalition era. With the emergence of PV Narasimha Rao as the country's PM in 1991-96, the import of UP went down with the adjustment of the North-South balance of power that Rao managed to bring about.
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Image: Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi
Rahul has decided to stick his neck out
UP 2012 has once again brought the state to the centre-stage of Indian politics, as had not happened in recent times, and it is for nothing that it is being viewed as the mother of all elections.
The state election has been hyped up by all political parties in such a way, as if the future of the country's politics hinged on it, and there are several reasons for this.
The first, of course, is Rahul, and his political future hinges on the UP outcome. The scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family has staked his personal prestige on the UP poll.
He is leading the Congress's campaign from the front and, as has been pointed out by many observers, this is not without risks, particularly as a lot of time was allowed to lapse, after the Congress's unexpected victory in 22 Lok Sabha seats in 2009.
The Congress failed to strike when the iron was hot and there was a depletion of the momentum that had built up in the Congress's favour after that result.
There is good timing and bad timing in politics, but Rahul decided to stick his neck out, and take up the challenge. It is only in the last few months that the party has tried to rebuild the momentum again.
Rahul has already toured through a large number of constituencies, staying in the homes of Dalits, protesting alongside the farmers of Bhatta-Parsaul, commiserating with the weavers in Varanasi, trying to create a "hawaa" in favour of the Congress.
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Image: Rahul Gandhi at Bhatta Parsaul
The UPA has had a few turbulent months
He knows he has to contend with the party's big negative -- the Congress's lack of organisation which cannot be built overnight. Just as the party took time to die, it will take time, and successive polls, to revive.
Besides Rahul, the outcome of the coming elections in five states will also have a bearing on the image and stability of the United Progressive Alliance.
The UPA has been buffeted around by scam after scam in the last 20 months, and a victory in Uttarakhand and Punjab, which the Congress hopes to wrest from its opponents, and a respectable showing in UP, and forming a government with others in Lucknow, could help turnaround the mood against it nationally.
The Congress has also been held hostage on a host of decisions -- like the Lokpal Bill, FDI in retail -- by its ally, the Trinamool Congress.
The party may hope that the UP outcome will enable to it join hands with the Samajwadi Party in Delhi, with the latter coming into government, which will insulate it from pressures from other allies, and thereby provide it with a measure of political stability that the government has lacked in recent months.
This could enable the prime minister to pursue his agenda of economic reforms that have been put on hold because of opposition from allies.
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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
UP result will impact presidential elections
It goes without saying that the outcome of the five assembly elections and the arithmetic UP generates, will also have a bearing on who comes to occupy Rashtrapati Bhavan in July when President Pratibha Patil's term comes to an end.
While there are those who believe that the going would become rough for Rahul if the Congress fails to fare well in UP, there are others who see it as a win-win situation for the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family.
After months of diffidence and a tentativeness, Rahul has now taken the lead and whatever be the poll results, it will go to establish his leadership in the months to come.
And now, by offering to campaign all over the state to help her brother, Priyanka has thrown a googly, which could electrify the poll campaign, and upset all existing calculations.
Image: President Pratibha Patil