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Priyanka Gandhi launches political career

Updated January 24, 2019

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Indian Congress Party leader Priyanka Gandhi waves as she arrives at a rally held to support party candidates during the ongoing Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections at Rae Bareli. — AFP
Indian Congress Party leader Priyanka Gandhi waves as she arrives at a rally held to support party candidates during the ongoing Uttar Pradesh state assembly elections at Rae Bareli. — AFP

NEW DELHI: India’s Priyanka Gandhi officially entered politics on Wednesday ahead of a looming national election, joining the opposition campaign in a crucial state where the party her family founded hopes to unseat Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Priyanka — whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers — was appointed Congress party chief in the east of Uttar Pradesh, considered India’s most politically important state.

She is a popular figure, drawing crowds wherever she goes. The party hopes to capitalise on her popularity in the coming elections where it will be challenging Modi’s Hindu nationalist party. The Congress party in a statement announced she would hold the title of All India Congress Committee general secretary, looking after the eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh state.

Will be looking after party affairs in parts of Uttar Pradesh

The party is expected to face a tough election battle in the state, with two powerful regional parties recently reaching an agreement that left the Congress party to fend for itself. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is considered to be a front-runner in the coming national elections.

Priyanka is married to a businessman and they have a son and a daughter. She will report to her brother Rahul, a fellow scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, who heads Congress, the main opposition party that ruled India for much of its post-independence history.

Priyanka, 47, is popular within Congress but the reins were passed to her older brother when their mother Sonia stepped back from the helm in 2017.

Rahul, 48, said he was “very happy that my sister, who is very capable and hardworking, will now work with me”, as Congress campaigns in a tough election expected by May.

“Congress is not going to be on (the) back foot. It will be on the front foot,” the opposition leader told reporters.

Priyanka is expected to assume her duties in February, the party said in a statement.

Uttar Pradesh is the heartland of Hindi-speaking India, a bellwether state and the country’s most populous with more than 200 million people.

With 80 seats in the lower house of parliament, victory in Uttar Pradesh is a key stepping stone to forming a national government.

Though she has campaigned informally in past elections, Priyanka’s official elevation to a key Congress post was seen as a long time in the making.

Some party loyalists see her as more affable and charismatic than her older brother, and had long lobbied for her to play a bigger role.

Rahul’s leadership credentials were hammered in the wake of the 2014 elections, when Congress was thumped by the BJP.

Modi won a record mandate and stormed to victory with the BJP gaining ground with decisive wins in key states including Uttar Pradesh, as Gandhi’s stewardship took a battering. But the Congress leader has bounced back, with the party taking back three heartland states from the BJP in December, delivering momentum as the national election looms.

Priyanka’s mother has been unwell in recent years and pushed her children to the fore.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2019