Priyanka Gandhi Flop Show: Nothing to Smile About

Why did the much hyped Priyanka Gandhi road show flop so terribly?

Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

Is the Charisma of the Gandhi family on the wane? In their own, traditional stronghold? This is the big question being asked in political circles here. Besides, disillusioned and rudderless Congress leaders and workers are terribly angst-ridden: Why did the much hyped Priyanka Gandhi road show flop so terribly? And why did Rahul Gandhi's jet engine fail to take off, despite the relentless hard work and mass contact?

The charismatic Priyanka has been an ardent and committed campaigner for her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul during parliamentary polls. She consistently restricted herself to their constituencies, was always immensely popular and a natural in spontaneous interaction with the locals, who seemed to adore her presence and smiling face. Congress leaders wanted that she should campaign for party candidates across the state, but she decided to concentrate only in the 10 assembly constituencies of Rae Bareli, Gandhi family's stronghold.

There were high expectations: 10 out of 10 was the Congress prophecy. Tragically, Congress did not win a single seat in Rae Bareli. Its candidates lost to lesser known formations like Rashtriya Swabhimaan Party and Peace Party in Bachhrawan and Rae Bareli segments. In Amethi, the results were marginally better – Congress won two segments, Tiloi and Jagdishpur. In Gauriganj, Congress won by just 500 votes. Significantly, Samajwadi Party (SP) swept the two VIP Lok Sabha constituencies by winning eight out of 10 assembly seats.

Cynics point out that Priyanka had brought her two children along, while husband Robert Vadra led a motorcycle campaign and went on TV listing his political ambitions. These efforts made no impact on the anti-incumbency factor working against local candidates and sitting MLAs. What was shocking was that sitting MLA from Amethi assembly, Ameeta Singh too tasted defeat. The SP defeated Sultanpur MP and ex-royalty Sanjay Singh's wife. Singh openly revolted after the debacle in Sultanpur, Amethi and Rae Bareli and alleged that ticket distribution was not proper and his 'services' were not used by the leadership.

People universally complained that Congress MLAs did virtually nothing in terms of local welfare, they were inaccessible and insensitive, and hence did not deserve their vote – despite the appeals by Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. Locals told Hardnews that these MLAs have been parasites of the Gandhi family charisma and they really had no desire to work for the masses. The party organization in these two constituencies (as in entire UP) had been turned defunct while political affairs were being managed by 'certain characters' in the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust.

Trust officials played an important role in selection of candidates under the guidance of KL Sharma who is managing the affairs of both these Lok Sabha constituencies as a representative of mother and son. Local Congress workers are not happy with the manner in which Sharma has been conducting party affairs.

There were high expectations: 10 out of 10 was the Congress prophecy. Tragically, Congress did not win a single seat in Rae Bareli

During the recent polls, road shows or village-level meetings were organized by self-help women's groups of the trust. A veteran Congress leader in Lucknow expressed his concern over the domination of 'NGO culture' over party work in these high profile constituencies. He informed that in the past, as state general secretary, he had visited Rae Bareli and Amethi. When he wanted to meet local Congress activists, he was advised to meet trust functionaries.

Anup Pande, from a family of Congress loyalists in Rae Bareli, said that Congress lost due to wrong information provided by KL Sharma. Pande said that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were committed and genuinely worked for their constituencies, but they totally depended on Sharma who was feeding them wrong feedback. "He should have apprised them about the non-performance of the sitting Congress MLAs," said Anup. Pande alleged that huge commissions were taken by "intermediaries" in the work done from MPLAD funds in Rae Bareli. "However, I am not demoralized. Surely, Sonia Gandhi will again win in 2014," he said.

Basant Yadav from Rae Bareli said that all applications given to Sonia Gandhi were handed over to Sharma, who never took any action. This demoralized the locals. Akhilesh Kumar, pradhan of Hullahpur, complained that there was no water in the canals of Rae Bareli, especially in the Sareni area for the last 20 years, and no step was taken to solve local problems. Applications of old age and widow pension submitted to party MLAs and local officials were never looked into, Akhilesh disclosed. It was mostly abject apathy that ruled the landscape.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2012