Congress chooses Wayanad for Priyanka Gandhi’s poll debut

New Delhi: Since her entry in active politics in 2019, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was projected as a possible challenger to Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi and also as a successor to Congress veteran Sonia Gandhi in the family pocket borough of Rae Bareli.

However, the Congress has decided to field her from Kerala’s Wayanad, the parliamentary seat that her elder brother Rahul Gandhi won for two consecutive terms. Rahul on Monday decided to vacate Wayanad for her while keeping Rae Bareli, earlier represented by their mother Sonia Gandhi.

Rahul won comfortably for the first time from Wayanad in 2019 when he had to bite the dust in the family stronghold of Amethi.

In the just concluded Lok Sabha elections, the former Congress chief again contested from Wayanad and moved from Amethi to Rae Bareli. Having won both the seats, he has decided to vacate Wayanad and retain Rae Bareli.

The 52-year-old Priyanka, whose name did the rounds as the Congress candidate for Amethi, Rae Bareli as well as Varanasi parliamentary seats, will finally make her debut in electoral politics from the safe environs of Wayanad in Kerala, a state that the Congress has almost swept in 2019 as well as 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

“I’m not nervous at all… I am very happy to be able to represent Wayanad. All I’ll say is that I won’t let them feel his (Rahul’s) absence. I will work hard and try my best to make everybody happy and be a good representative,” Priyanka said after her candidature was announced on Monday.

“I have a good relation with Rae Bareli as I have worked there for 20 years and that relation will never break,” she also said, adding that both she and Rahul will work together in both the constituencies.

After joining active politics, she was made general secretary in-charge for crucial eastern Uttar Pradesh in January 2019, and then as the general secretary in-charge of the entire state. Though the performance of her party in 2019 polls was not very good, she continued her efforts to strengthen the organisation at the grassroots level.

In December 2023, Priyanka was made general secretary “without portfolio” and she emerged as the Congress’ key strategist and later as the party’s star campaigner for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.

She also helped strengthen the organisation and led the party’s campaign in Himachal Pradesh and helped it bring to power in the hill state. Her campaign helped the Congress in the just concluded general elections when the party got 99 seats, up from 52 in 2019.

Priyanka is married to businessman Robert Vadra, who had repeatedly expressed his interest in contesting from Amethi in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections. The seat was eventually given to family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma, who defeated BJP leader Smriti Irani.

If Priyanka wins the Lok Sabha bypolls, it would be for the first time that three members of the Gandhi family will be in Parliament. Her mother Sonia Gandhi is a Rajya Sabha member from Rajasthan.

“The voice of the people will resonate much louder with both Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi present inside the Parliament,” party leader Gaurav Gogoi said.

With the Congress putting up a surprisingly good show in the Lok Sabha polls, Priyanka has cemented her position as her party’s talisman.

“The Congress for a long time was in search of an effective campaigner and in the 2024 elections Priyanka Gandhi has been a revelation in the way she has responded to Modi. Priyanka Gandhi showed Modi can be countered and played a key role pan-India,” said Rasheed Kidwai, who has authored several books including “24 Akbar Road: A Short History of the People Behind the Fall and Rise of the Congress”.

Political commentator and former Congress leader Sanjay Jha hailed Priyanka Gandhi as an “outstanding campaigner”.

“Her sharp and prompt rebuttals to Mr Modi’s jibes have worked wonders during the campaign. Her presence has been talismanic,” he said.

The INDIA bloc won 234 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha elections with the Congress emerging as its largest constituent with 99 seats. The election campaign saw a spirited fight back by the Congress with Priyanka playing a pivotal role in countering constant barbs from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders.

Countering Prime Minister Modi over his “gold and mangalsutra” remarks, an emotionally charged Priyanka reminded the voters that her mother Sonia Gandhi sacrificed her mangalsutra for the country.

The speculation was intense as was the spotlight on everything she said.

The Congress general secretary did not take the electoral plunge at that time but has opted to contest the bypoll from Wayanad after guiding the party to a stronger position in Parliament when compared with the results of 2014 and 2019.

Discussing her childhood, the pain of her father Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and her mother’s grief, she steered the Congress campaign, adroitly walking the tightrope between striking a familial chord and discussing national-level issues, and proved to be a strategist, orator and mass mobiliser.

As the curtains came down on the 2024 general elections, analysts totted up the numbers.

Priyanka took part in 108 public meetings and roadshows. She campaigned in 16 states and one Union territory and also addressed two conferences of workers in Amethi and Rae Bareli.

Most of her speeches were akin to a conversation with the crowd, establishing a connect and giving people the impression that this is someone they know, someone sharing her feelings and thoughts with them.

Accountability was a constant refrain in her campaign speeches across the country. Priyanka also made it a point to appeal to people to not vote on emotive issues based on religion and caste and to vote for bread and butter issue to improve their daily lives.

Before 2019, Priyanka was seen managing the election campaigns for her mother and brother in Amethi and Rae Bareli.

In the recent elections, Rahul secured a massive 64.7 per cent vote share in Wayanad, defeating his nearest rival Annie Raja of CPI by a margin of 3.64 lakh votes. The BJP candidate K Surendran finished third with 1.3 lakh votes.