New Delhi/Amethi: Playing his trump card, Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday pushed his sister Priyanka Gandhi into taking the plunge into active politics by appointing her as the party General Secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, where the SP-BSP alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha polls has pushed the Congress to the corner.
Priyanka Gandhi's appointment, a gamble by Rahul, is aimed at galvanizing the Congress cadre in the state where it has been marginalised over the years and where the BJP swept a whopping 71 of the 80 seats Lok Sabha seats in 2014.
Shortly after the appointment, Rahul Gandhi told reporters that naming Priyanka Gandhi and Jotiraditya Scindia as General Secretaries for Uttar Pradesh was a "big step" to spread the party's "real" ideology for poor and weaker sections and to rebuild its base.
However, he sought to strike a conciliatory note towards the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), saying the Congress will cooperate with them to defeat the BJP in whatever ways possible.
With this, Priyanka Gandhi, married to businessman Robert Vadra and mother of two children, makes a full-fledged entry into politics casting aside her earlier role that was mainly confined to the constituencies of Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli) and Rahul Gandhi (Amethi).
From the first week of February she will assume her new charge in eastern Uttar Pradesh, considered the home turf of Chief Minister and BJP's 'Hindutva' poster-boy Yogi Adityanath. In an organisational shake-up ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the party also announced the appointment of Jyotiraditya Scindia, MP from Guna in Madhya Pradesh, as the Congress General Secretary in charge of western Uttar Pradesh.
Speculation of Priyanka Gandhi contesting the upcoming Lok Sabha polls from her mother's constituency Rae Bareli immediately gained ground.
Replying to a question on this, Rahul Gandhi said it depends on her. "We are not going to play on the backfoot. We have not played on the backfoot in Gujarat also. We do politics for people. So we will play on the front foot.
"I have given them (Priyanka and Scindia) a mission in Uttar Pradesh for spreading the real ideology, the ideology for the poor and weaker sections. Priyanka and Scindia are powerful leaders and I have full faith that they will work and give what Uttar Pradesh needs and what its youth needs. We will have to build our space. "I fully respect Akhileshji and Mayawatiji. They have done their alliance and they are not our enemies. We are fighting together. If remaining parties want to join us, it is welcome," Gandhi told reporters in Amethi.
This is perhaps the first time the party has split the organisational responsibilities of its General Secretary in Uttar Pradesh into zones.
With both Priyanka Gandhi and Scindia entrusted with eastern and western UP respectively, party veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad, who was the General Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, has now been given the responsibility of Haryana. The Congress, which has been marginalized in Uttar Pradesh after 1989, has come under pressure ever since the SP and BSP decided a fortnight ago to join hands, keeping the Congress out of the alliance. The two parties just left Rae Bareli and Amethi for the Congress. In its best performance since 1989, the Congress won 21 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 but dropped to just two seats (Sonia and Rahul Gandhi) in 2014.
Gandhi also appointed Lok Sabha member from Kerala K.C. Venugopal as Congress General Secretary (Organisation), replacing Ashok Gehlot, now the Rajasthan Chief Minister. While Congress workers and leaders hailed the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi saying it would boost the party's performance in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP said such a development was only expected of a "family party" that has believed in dynasty rule from the days of Jawaharlal Nehru.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra described Priyanka Gandhi as a "crutch" for Rahul Gandhi who as the Congress President was unable to get accepted as part of 'mahagatbandhan' of opposition parties. "Party is the family for the BJP whereas family is the party for Congress. All selections are done in only one family. Somewhere Rahul has failed... Who will be the next after Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi? Only one family," said Patra. --IANS