It would be premature to conclude that Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s attempt on Friday to meet the families of the 11 tribals killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Sonbhadra could galvanise her party just as her grandmother Indira Gandhi’s August 1977 visit to Belchhi, a village in Bihar’s Nalanda district where 11 Dalits were killed, did.
Priyanka’s effort, however, indicates the political strategy that she, and in the weeks to come her brother and outgoing Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, plan to adopt to reclaim the lost political space of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
The brother and sister are keen not just to put up a fight against the Bharatiya Janata Party, both in Uttar Pradesh, where Assembly polls are due in 2022, and rest of the country, but in the process also challenge the old guard currently led by senior leader Ahmed Patel in their party.
The brother and sister, and their respective teams, do not want to rely on Congress party structures. They are willing to work with activists from outside the Congress fold to raise issues of people’s interests. The message to activist groups has been unambiguous that either of the two would reach the spot wherever injustice and atrocities are committed and lend their voice to the cause.
At the same time, the two have an eye on the internal Congress intrigue in New Delhi. Rahul, and his closest advisers, are insistent that the party has an election to find his successor. Some of the seniors have explored a rapproachment, but Rahul has remained unmoved.
Rahul realises that the party could split after the election, between those who support him and the older guard. His position remains non-negotiable that the old guard should retire and hand over the reins of the power completely in the hands of a younger leadership.
Some of the seniors, currently identified with the old guard, particularly Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, have not only rejected proposals that he quit his current position to be the consensus president of the party, but also that he believes the party can run smoothly only if a Nerhu-Gandhi is at the helm.
While Priyanka would continue with her campaign to reach out to people in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul is likely to keep a low profile until the party gets a new party president, possibly an interim chief to oversee organizational elections to pave the way for the election of the party chief. He is set to launch a padyatra across the country from October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
On Friday, UP police stopped Priyanka from going to Sonbhadra where 10 tribals were gunned down on Wednesday over a land dispute. She was taken to a guesthouse after she squatted on the road with her supporters. Rahul tweeted that his sister had been arrested 'illegally'.
Ten tribals were killed and 18 injured in the clash between supporters of the village head Yagya Dutt and Gond tribals over a piece of land in Sonbhadra's Ghorawal area on Wednesday.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath promised justice and said that the sub-divisional magistrate and four other officials had been suspended. A statement from the UP government said 29 people, including the village headman Dutt and his brother, were arrested.
Earlier in the day, Priyanka landed in Varanasi and met the injured at a hospital before making her way to Sonbhadra, about 80 km away. The district administration stopped her on the Varanasi-Mirzapur border.
After Priyanka was detained, the Trinamool Congress said a team of its MPs would visit Sonbhadra to meet the victims. It said its leaders Derek O'Brien, Sunil Mondal, Abir Ranjan Biswas and Uma Saren would reach Varanasi airport on Saturday morning and then take a three-hour drive to Ubbha village in Sonbhadra district.
After her defeat in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls, Indira Gandhi emerged from her self-imposed political exile by visiting Belchhi village atop an elephant in August of that year where upper castes had killed 11 Dalits a couple of months earlier. It had marked her resurgence in national politics.