Even as Priyanka is gaining traction among the electorate and the media, her counterpart for the western UP region, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has been low key and perceptibly missing from the 'heat and dust' of elections in UP, reports Virendra Singh Rawat.
Over the past two months, the scene at the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee headquarters in the posh mall avenue locality of Lucknow has metamorphosed from near desolate to buzzing, after Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was anointed the party's general secretary in charge of Eastern UP.
The peripheral area routinely plunges into chaos due to haphazardly parked SUVs of ticket seekers, party leaders, office bearers and supporters thronging the UPCC office, owing to the new-found optimism of the revival of the comatose Congress, which has been lying in the political wilderness in UP for nearly three decades.
The Lucknow roadshow of Priyanka alongside Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president and her elder brother, in February, which she followed up with the boat ride on the Ganga from Prayagraj to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's parliamentary constituency of Varanasi in March and a three-day visit to Amethi, Rae Bareli and Ayodhya last week to galvanise Congress supporters, has earned high optics for the party and pepped up the cadres for the gruelling election season.
Even as Priyanka is gaining traction among the electorate and the media, her counterpart for the western UP region, Jyotiraditya Scindia, has been low key and perceptibly missing from the 'heat and dust' of elections in UP.
The Congress, which once commanded a considerable hold in Western UP owing to its large Muslim and Dalit population, eventually lost out to the regional outfits in the late 1980s, especially after the emergence of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party on the political landscape.
Western UP districts have a sizeable population of minorities. While almost two dozen constituencies comprise a considerable Muslim population, the community virtually holds the key to victory in about a dozen constituencies, including Saharanpur, Meerut, Baghpat, Bijnore, Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, owing to their tactical voting to keep the Bharatiya Janata Party at bay.
Political commentator Hemant Tiwari observed that Scindia would need to work harder to improve the Congress' performance in Western UP, since its core voters of yesteryear had already drifted to either the SP or the BSP.
"The Congress's organisational machinery is still weak and Scindia has not shown much alacrity in his new role in UP and continues to largely operate from Delhi or his hometown of Gwalior.
"This does not augur well for the party's prospects in the high stakes battle," he said, adding since the Congress leader had to divide time between UP and his home state of Madhya Pradesh, it was clearly taking a toll on his UP mandate.
Under the devolution formula, Priyanka and Scindia were, respectively, allocated 41 and 39 out of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in UP, which is readying up for a triangular contest between the Congress, the BJP and the SP-BSP combine.
The fact that the seven phases polling in the state would commence on April 11 from constituencies in Western UP and then progress towards East, makes it even more imperative for the Congress and Scindia to actively marshal the available resources for making a positive impact at the hustings.
UPCC spokesperson Zeeshan Haider claimed Scindia had visited several Western UP constituencies and was actively keeping in touch with key party figures and candidates in the region. "He holds regular election-related meetings and deliberations with them."
In 2009, the Congress had won 21 Lok Sabha seats in UP. Of those more than half were accounted for by the Western and the Central regions, including Moradabad, Firozabad, Bareilly and Kanpur.
However, its tally slumped to just two in 2014 under the sweeping 'Modi wave', with the party winning only the traditional Gandhi pocket boroughs of Amethi and Rae Bareli.
Similarly, in 2012, the party logged wins in 28 assembly constituencies in the state, including key Western UP pockets of Shamli, Suar (Rampur), Hapur, Syana (Bulandshahr), Khurja, and Mathura.
However, it managed to wrest merely seven seats in the 2017 UP assembly polls, although it had forged a pre-poll alliance with then ruling SP.
Social historian Badri Narayan of the G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, observed the Congress could count on quite a few contenders in Western UP, who were expected to put up a spirited fight.
"The Congress could draw strength on a number of Western UP constituencies due to some leaders holding clout in their respective constituencies, such as Imran Masood and Raj Babbar," he added.
Conceding that Scindia was not reckoned to be putting much effort in Western UP even as Priyanka was being acknowledged as leading from the front, Narayan said the Guna MP could stand to benefit from the good performance of such leaders.