Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday said in Amethi that her party’s strategy in Uttar Pradesh has been to field candidates that either have prospects of winning or would potentially damage the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) chances and benefit the alliance of Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD).
Priyanka’s statement comes with polling on 39 of UP’s 80 seats already over, and 41 seats of eastern UP slated to go to the polls in the next three phases on May 6, 12 and 19. In 2014, the BJP had won 73 seats, including two of ally Apna Dal. Gandhi family strongholds of Amethi and Rae Bareli go to the polls in the next phase on May 6.
The SP-BSP-RLD alliance has not fielded any candidate in either of the two seats. In Amethi, the BJP’s Smriti Irani is contesting against Congress President Rahul Gandhi, and the Congress is keen that the respective support bases of SP and BSP support its party chief in what has become a tougher-than-anticipated contest.
On Tuesday, BSP Chief Mayawati had threatened to withdraw support to the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh after her party’s candidate from Guna Lok Sabha seat in that state, Lokendra Singh Rajput, joined the Congress, expressing support to Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Congress candidate from the seat.
While campaigning for her brother in Amethi, Priyanka was asked if she was afraid of contesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi from Varanasi, she said, “If Priyanka Gandhi gets scared, she will sit at home and not do politics. I am in politics for good and will be there.”
Priyanka is her party’s general secretary in-charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, which will go to the polls in the forthcoming three phases. “We have carefully chosen candidates, so that either Congress wins or they cut into the BJP’s votes. Congress is not at all cutting into votes of the UP gathbandhan,” she said.
Interestingly, Priyanka also said her party was not trying to prepare for the 2022 Assembly polls in the state, which contradicts statements that her brother and other Congress leaders had made when the Congress president appointed Scindia and Priyanka in-charges of Uttar Pradesh.
“This is not a preparation for (assembly polls in) UP in 2022. This is about defeating the BJP in 2019,” Priyanka said. “The Congress is weak in UP we need to strengthen it here. I am working towards it,” she said.
Priyanka also explained her decision not to contest against the PM from Varanasi. “I am not dejected that I am not contesting from Varanasi. I wanted to campaign and strengthen the Congress in eastern Uttar Pradesh. Had I contested from Varanasi I would have got confined to Varanasi alone and would not have been able to work for strengthening the party,” she said.
While the SP-BSP-RLD alliance has not fielded candidates in Amethi and Rae Bareli, the Congress has returned the favour by not fielding candidates against RLD’s Ajit Singh in Muzaffarnagar and Jayant Chaudhary in Baghpat. It has also not fielded candidates against candidates hailing from the SP’s ruling Yadav clan in Firozabad, Mainpuri, Azamgarh and Kannuaj.
The Congress has maintained that it had identified 18 “winnable” seats for itself in UP, and is putting up a good fight in these seats, while elsewhere it has fielded candidates that would eat into the BJP’s vote share. The gathbandhan has maintained that the Congress fielded candidates in western UP to hurt the SP-BSP-RLD alliance, particularly in Saharanpur, Kairana, Bijnor and Moradabad.
However, there several seats where the Congress claim of trying to help the gathbandhan is borne out by its choice of candidates. In Amroha, the Congress replaced its candidate to help BSP’s Danish Ali. In Meerut, the Congress fielded Harendra Agarwal to BJP’s Rajendra Agrawal and SP-BSP-RLD’s Haji Mohammad Yaqoob.
The Congress has fielded either candidates hailing from upper castes or non-Yadav OBC castes in several of the seats. Several of the non-Yadav OBCs have gravitated towards the BJP in the last five years, including such castes as Kurmis and Rajbhars. The Congress has also given tickets to breakaway faction of Apna Dal, which is led by Krishna Patel.
With inputs from PTI