New Delhi: Priyanka Gandhi officially entered politics on Wednesday ahead of a looming national election, joining the opposition campaign in a crucial state where the party her family founded hopes to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Priyanka — whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers — was appointed Congress party chief in the east of Uttar Pradesh, considered India’s most politically important state.
She will report to her brother Rahul, a fellow scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who heads the main opposition party that ruled India for much of its post-independence history.
Priyanka, 47, is popular within Congress but the reigns were passed to her older brother Rahul when their mother Sonia stepped back from the helm in 2017. Rahul, 48, said he was “very happy that my sister, who is very capable and hardworking, will now work with me”, as Congress campaigns in a tough election expected by May.
“Congress is not going to be on (the) back foot. It will be on the front foot,” the opposition leader told reporters.
Priyanka is expected to assume her duties in February, the party said in a statement. She will oversee the party’s campaign in eastern Uttar Pradesh, home to Modi’s constituency in the holy city of Varanasi. But the region is more than just symbolic.
Uttar Pradesh is the heartland of Hindi-speaking India, a bellweather state and the country’s most populous with more than 200 million people.
With 80 seats in the Lower House of Parliament in Delhi, victory in Uttar Pradesh is a key stepping stone to forming a national government.
Though she has campaigned informally in past elections, Priyanka’s official elevation to a key Congress post was seen as a long time in the making.
Some party loyalists see Priyanka as more affable and charismatic than her older brother, and had long lobbied for her to play a bigger role. Rahul’s leadership credentials were hammered in the wake of 2014, when Congress was thumped in the polls by Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
Modi won a record mandate and stormed to victory with the BJP, gaining ground with decisive wins in key states including Uttar Pradesh, as Gandhi’s stewardship took a battering.
But the Congress leader has bounced back, with the party taking back three heartland states from the BJP in December, delivering momentum as the national election looms. Priyanka’s appointment comes as Congress was left out of an opposition alliance against Modi between two regional parties in Uttar Pradesh in recent weeks.
The party also announced the appointment of Jyotiraditya Scindia, MP from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, as the Congress General Secretary in charge of western Uttar Pradesh.
With both Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia entrusted with eastern and western UP respectively, party veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was the General Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, has now been given the responsibility of Haryana. Gandhi also appointed Lok Sabha member from Kerala KC Venugopal as Congress General Secretary (Organisation), replacing Ashok Gehlot, now the Rajasthan Chief Minister.
While Congress workers and leaders hailed the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi saying it would boost the party’s performance in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP said such a development was only expected of a “family party” that has believed in dynasty rule from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru..