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Priyanka Flags Farm Distress In Western UP To Give Congress An Early Start For 2022 Polls

Priyanka had raised the issue of pending cane dues to the tune of Rs 10,000 cr in UP earlier and her renewed pitch against the three farm laws is finding resonance with the peasants.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is trying hard to revive the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, has launched her party’s outreach for the 2022 Assembly polls from western parts of the state where widespread farmer unrest has come as a ray of hope for the grand old party.

Farmers of western UP had joined the ongoing protests across Delhi’s borders in large numbers ever since the peasants from Punjab and Haryana started camping there from November 26, 2020 demanding repeal of the three contentious farm laws.

Post the Republic Day tractor rally, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and others have taken the protests to villages across western UP and in neighbouring Haryana by organising large community gatherings called Kisan Mahapanchayat.

Sensing opportunity, Priyanka too has addressed party-backed mega farmer conclaves in western UP’s Saharanpur on February 10, Bijnor on February 15 and is slated to attend similar gatherings in Mathura on February 19 and Muzaffarnagar on February 20. Saharanpur is the only district in the region where the Congress has two MLAs.

Priyanka has been focusing on the region for a while. On February 4, she met the family of Navrat Singh, the young farmer from Rampur who lost his life in the tractor parade on January 26. Earlier, she met the family of the rape victim in Hathras in October, 2020 to demand justice.

The Congress, which has been on the margins in the state for long, is trying to make its presence felt by taking up the issues of farmers in western UP, from where the multi-phased assembly elections usually start.

Priyanka is keen to project the Congress as an alternative to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party over the two regional strong players- the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party- but whether an early start in western UP will bring electoral benefits or not remains to be seen.

For now, the farmer outreach dubbed as ‘Jai jawan, jai kisan’ campaign is on and will soon cover all the 27 districts in western UP. Senior party leader from UP Salman Khurshid, who has been asked to draft the party’s 2022 Assembly polls manifesto, claims Priyanka’s initiative is already showing signs of change.

The farmers of western UP, who are generally better off than peasants in other parts of the state due to large-scale sugarcane cultivation, have been concerned over pending dues from factories which crush sugarcane to produce refined sugar, besides the less than expected prices they got for wheat and rice over the past few seasons.

Priyanka had raised the issue of pending cane dues to the tune of Rs 10,000 cr in UP earlier and her renewed pitch against the three farm laws is finding resonance with the peasants.

At the same time, the Congress managers are aware that they have some competition from the Rashtriya Lok Dal led by Ajit Singh and the SP.

RLD is fanning out across the villages of western UP to protest the farm laws as the party has influence in the area owing largely to its Jat vote bank which had shifted towards the BJP in 2017.

The SP too is trying to project itself as a pro-farmer party.

Keeping the fact that Muslims in the area usually opt for SP and BSP in mind, the Congress is presenting itself as a party which caters to the interests of all communities. During her recent visit to Saharanpur, Priyanka made it a point to pray both at the temple of Shakumbhari Devi and a Sufi Khanqah.

Priyanka, who had been managing only the two parliamentary constituencies of her mother Sonia Gandhi and brother Rahul Gandhi– Rae Bareli and Amethi respectively– first got a bigger party role in the 2019 national elections when she was given charge of half of UP along with then party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, who took care of the western districts.

Since the party’s dismal performance in the 2019 national polls where the Congress won just Rae Bareli parliamentary seat and Rahul lost Amethi, Priyanka launched a series of attacks against the Yogi Adityanath government in UP over issues like land rights of Dalits in Sonbhadra, harassment of Shahjahanpur girl allegedly at the hands of BJP leader Chinmayanand, the progress in the Unnao rape case, children dying due to malnutrition, law and order situation or farmer suicides.

To take care of the weak party organization, she completely revamped the state unit, brought in two-term Tamkuhi Raj MLA Ajay Kumar Lallu as the new state chief and named Aradhana Misra ‘Mona’ the Congress Legislative Party leader.

During the lockdown in 2020, Priyanka offered 1,000 buses to help the state government ferry thousands of migrants who were walking hundreds of miles in heat and dust to reach their native places. The plan ran into rough weather after the state government raised objections and cited various regulations.

Priyanka is aware of the uphill task she faces in reviving the grand old party in UP given the brute majority of the ruling BJP.

The holy dip she took at the Sangam (the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati) at Prayagraj on Mauni Amavasya on February 11 and later a visit to seek the blessings of Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati, are being seen by many as a Congress counter to the saffron party’s Hindutva politics.

Former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat, currently in charge of Punjab, compared Priyanka’s holy dip at the Sangam with that of Sonia Gandhi’s in 2001 saying the visit had turned around the party’s fortunes nationwide a few years later.

Though Priyanka is aggressive on the social media, the Congress faces a real challenge in organizing mass protests on public issues in the state. The party also needs to figure out ways to deal with the regional players SP and BSP.

During the lockdown, Priyanka did not fail to take a dig at BSP chief and former chief minister Mayawati for not coming forward to help the suffering migrants.

With SP, the relationship is complicated. Though the Congress had a pre-poll pact with the SP for the 2017 assembly polls, none of the partners are willing to repeat the alliance for 2022.

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