When Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi was detained and subsequently arrested during her visit to meet the families of farmers who were killed in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in Uttar Pradesh, there were quick comparisons of a similar act by her grandmother Indira Gandhi 44 years back.
Indira had in 1977 visited Belchi in Bihar after the massacre of 13 people including 8 dalits by the upper caste landowners. This was the time when Indira was in self-imposed exile after her defeat in the general elections post Emergency.
Indira’s Belchi visit, which included a tractor ride and also an elephant ride due to the region’s inaccessibility in the rainy season, is said to be one of the reasons that won her the spotlight as she eventually regained power in 1980.
Priyanka’s aggressive approach during her visit to Lakhimpur Kheri has drawn parallels to her grandmother Indira Gandhi. A video shows an angry Priyanka in a fiery argument with the Uttar Pradesh cops who were trying to stop her at Sitapur.
Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi meet the family of a farmer who lost his life in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. (ANI Photo)
Shiv Sena has called Priyanka Gandhi “a fiery leader and fighter” and has said “Her eyes and voice have the same fire as Indira Gandhi.”
Several optimistic Congressmen, who are desperate for a turnaround in the party’s political fortunes, have also been quick to hold on to this ray of hope and have been drawing parallels with Indira Gandhi.
But is there merit in this comparison?
Or is it just wishful thinking by leaders who are desperately waiting for the party’s revival?
Let’s analyze to find possible answers.
Not the first cameo by Priyanka
For those in the Congress, and outside, who are upbeat about Priynaka’s aggression in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, it is worthwhile to remember that this is not the first time that the Congress general secretary has hogged the limelight with her activism.
For a party that is perceived as relying too much on social media, any real action on the ground evokes immediate attention and a lot of enthusiasm.
Unfortunately though, there had been little in the form of follow up action on previous occasions.
In July 2019, some months after she was handed over the charge of Uttar Pradesh, Priyanka Gandhi was detained while she was on her way to meet families of victims of the Sonbhadra firing incident.
She was kept overnight in a guesthouse in Mirzapur where members of two families met her.
Priyanka did visit Sonebhadra next month, but the spark that was generated by the confrontation was lost by then and it was business as usual.
The Hathras incident again saw a flash of aggression by the Gandhi siblings when they confronted the cops on the Greater Noida expressway.
Then, there was the row over buses for people of Uttar Pradesh during the first wave of Covid. Priyanka had once again taken the lead and posted several videos attacking the Yogi Adityanath government.
Unfortunately, none of these flashes of aggression has helped the party pick up the momentum in a state that goes to polls in a few months.
So, while the Lakhimpur Kheri confrontation has galvanised the Congress cadres across the country, it remains to be seen if the party can sustain the aggression and carry it forward to enthuse the party workers.
Congress of 1977 vs Congress of 2021
The Congress workers who love to draw the Indira analogy everytime Priyanka takes centrestage should remember that the Congress of 2021 is nowhere near, in organisational strength and spread, to what it was in 1977 or 1980 and the years after that.
The Congress then was the only pan India party and the opposition was a motley group of scattered parties that had joined hands to defeat it.
Today, in Indian politics, that position is enjoyed by the BJP. The Congress is nowhere in the reckoning.
The Congress today does not have the organisational strength or the reach to capitalise on the occasional political gains made by its leaders.
Here is a look at where the Congress stands today vis-a-vis the BJP.
In battleground Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is struggling to make its presence felt. The party has not only lost seats, but also its vote share over the years.
This is true not just for the assembly elections, but also for the Lok Sabha elections in the state.
It is in this light that the remarks of Prashant Kishor appear relevant, even though the Congress leaders would like to attribute his reaction as a case of sour grapes after his rumoured entry into the party seems to have hit a roadblock.
The election strategist, who also held meetings with the Congress top brass, has been quick to remind the Grand old party of the reality on the ground.
“People looking for a quick, spontaneous revival of GOP led opposition based on the Lakhimpur Kheri incident are setting themselves up for a big disappointment,” Kishor had tweeted.
“Unfortunately there are no quick-fix solutions to the deep-rooted problems and structural weakness of GOP,” he said.
Clearly, the Congress has lost considerable ground in the country and more so in Uttar Pradesh. Priyanka Gandhi’s spirited campaign in Uttar Pradesh is certainly a step in the right direction. However, for it to translate into electoral success, this will have to be a sustained campaign. Also, the party needs to work hard to rebuild its organisation at the grassroots level, something which the BJP has done meticulously.