Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into Uttar Pradesh’s politics is linked to the odd predicament that the Congress faces in the state. It won 44 seats in 2014 and must at least triple its tally in this year’s Lok Sabha elections in order to lead a coalition government, in the event that the National Democratic Alliance is unable to form one. The Congress could achieve this by performing exceptionally well in states where it is in direct competition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which spearheads the NDA, or where it is part of an alliance. In states where the Congress is a marginal player, it is dependent on regional outfits to substantially reduce the BJP’s 2014 tally of 282 seats.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the states where the Congress has been a bit player for three decades, during which it won over 20 seats on only one occasion, in 2009. In 2014, the Congress secured two seats in the state. This was a sharp contrast to the BJP’s performance—it won 71 out of 80 seats, and its ally, Apna Dal, won two. It is the sort of state where the Congress should have played second fiddle to the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party—the regional players possessing a substantial base—or at least have refrained from undermining them. However, the Congress has swept aside this consideration to field candidates in around seventy constituencies, regardless of whether this works to the BJP’s advantage.
The Congress’ impact on past elections in Uttar Pradesh, barring the one in 2009, has been largely marginal. It is with the intention of overcoming its weak organisational apparatus that the party has chosen Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to spearhead its campaign as the general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh. As a crowd-puller, she may garner votes for the party that it would not have acquired otherwise. Being at the helm of the Congress, however, could transform her and the party into a wild card in Uttar Pradesh. Whether she can translate her undeniable appeal into votes remains to be seen.