It is Congress Party’s “to be or not to be” moment : Will Priyanka Gandhi contest election from Varanasi or not?
Rahul Gandhi’s evasive answer to the question has further deepened the suspense.
With two phases of elections already over, how long can the grand old party of India play the waiting game?
What might be the strategy behind the move — if it’s finally a yes — to field the party’s best-selling asset against a formidable opponent, Narendra Modi?
Is it electorally wise to announce Priyanka’s candidature from Varanasi so late in the day?
Despite its declared intentions, the Congress has been slow in taking crucial political decision on time.
Its smugness cost it the alliance in Uttar Pradesh where the Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lokdal (RLD) forged an electoral bonding, leaving the party in the lurch.
In Delhi it took long to make up its mind that the alliance with Aam Admi Party (AAP) is not possible, thereby losing some crucial time in this election.
But what is going on with fielding Priyanka from Varanasi?
It looks like the Congress party wants to galvanize its workers by keeping the suspense alive, and give a message that the party is ready to take on Modi on his home turf.
It also wants to send a message to its own constituency and fence sitters that the party is not shy of taking its opponents head on and it can pin Modi down on his home turf.
Varanasi is at the center of the Hindu universe, and by fielding the Gandhi scion from such a religiously significant place, the party could be looking to dilute its image as a party of minority communities.
Importantly, Priyanka would not be a push-over as the Congress’s local candidiate Ajay Thakur is.
Modi cannot think of an easy walkover when Gandhi is in the fray.
If the SP and BSP back her, it would be tough for the Prime Minister to take the holy city for granted despite all the good work he has done in the city for the last five years.
Eastern Uttar Pradesh, to which Varanasi belongs, has been a base for the Congress party even in its worst days. In 2009 elections, most of its twenty-two seats from UP came from that region.
If the party plans to emerge as a genuine contender for power in 2022 assembly elections in the state, Priyanka’s investment in Varanasi might yield good electoral dividends even if she loses the fight.
The Congress party may also be open to the possibility of her slaying the giant in Varanasi. This possibility will undermine Rahul Gandhi’s leadership and raise the stature of Priyanka Gandhi not only within the party, but also among the masses.
The counter argument, however, is that she should not pin herself down to Varanasi. Rather, say another section, she should campaign for the party in the northern and central Indian states where the Congress is the primary opponent of the BJP.
If, for example, she helps Congress wrest back some seats from the BJP in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, it will benefit the party in the final count.
Varanasi goes to polls in the last phase of elections, in May 19, and the nominations for the seat have to be filed before April 29.
Modi is scheduled to do a two-day roadshow on April 25 and 26 in Varanasi before filing his nomination.
It is perhaps time for the Congress Party to end its Hamletian dilemma:
“Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them.”