Watch Nidhi Razdan: Why Priyanka Gandhi is not contesting elections Video Credit: Gulf News

Over the last few weeks, the Indian media spent countless hours speculating about whether Rahul Gandhi would contest the family bastion of Amethi in UP and take on Union Minister Smriti Irani once again.

In the end, Rahul chose not to and instead filed his second Lok Sabha nomination from another Gandhi stronghold in UP — Rae Bareli. There continues to be intense debate about whether this was a smart move or not but the story that really interests me is why his sister Priyanka decided to sit out this election.

It is of course very evident that Rahul Gandhi has been groomed as the heir to the Congress top job for years now while Priyanka has been campaigning for the party, initially focusing more on UP but increasingly widening her scope and reach.

It is often said by political observers that Priyanka reminds them of her grandmother, Indira Gandhi. Her fiery style of making speeches, her no holds barred approach in taking on Narendra Modi, even the way she connects with crowds and wears saris. She is undoubtedly a more charismatic politician than her brother. But is she a better leader? The jury is still out on that.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

As general secretary of the Congress in charge of UP, which is the largest state with 80 Lok Sabha seats, Priyanka does not have a great record. In the last UP assembly poll in 2022, the Congress fared even worse than in 2017, winning just 2 seats and its worst ever vote share of 2.3 per cent. In 2017, the party won 7 seats and had a vote share of 6.25 per cent.

To be fair, UP was always going to be an uphill challenge for any Congress in charge, even a Gandhi. The party which once dominated the political landscape of the Hindi heartland state, is now a minor side player. The rank and file of the Congress in UP has slowly eroded over the years.

In that backdrop, as UP in charge, Priyanka still lead a spirited and aggressive campaign. For example, she insisted on giving 40 per cent tickets to women and launched the ‘Ladki hoon, lad sakti hoon’ (I am a girl, I can fight) campaign, which created quite a buzz.

Read more by Nidhi Razdan

A missed opportunity

However, this did not work with voters in the end but despite that defeat, Priyanka lead from the front in the Karnataka and Himachal campaigns which propelled the Congress to victory. In Himachal for example, where the party was riddled by factionalism, sources say Priyanka played a huge role in stepping in and resolving differences. She was also a key player in the promises made in the Congress manifesto especially with regard to women.

It is in this backdrop that she was relieved as the Congress in-charge of UP last December and her role became bigger.

Which is why I find it baffling that the Congress has not fielded her for Parliament. Congress leaders have been saying that with Sonia Gandhi in the Rajya Sabha, and Rahul already contesting, a third Gandhi would have given the BJP more ammunition to attack the party over dynasty. I beg to differ. The BJP will use the dynasty card regardless of whether Priyanka contested or did not (even though the BJP has a long list of dynasts of its own).

Moreover, it is the Indian voter who has to decide at the end of the day. Just because you come from a political family does not guarantee victory. Rahul Gandhi learnt that the hard way from Amethi in 2019 when he lost the family strong hold.

The Congress now says Priyanka will stay put in Rae Bareli and Amethi to ensure the Congress wins these two prestige seats. If she is not going to be campaigning in other states, she could have easily contested the Rae Bareli poll. This was the time to truly test her in an election, enthuse the Congress cadre. It is a missed opportunity.