When in doubt, turn to another Gandhi. The Congress may not be sure about its gameplan for Uttar Pradesh, but it now seems clear that Priyanka Gandhi – daughter of party President Sonia Gandhi – will play a major role in the campaign to win state elections next year. A spokesperson told The Hindu that Priyanka Gandhi will hold 150 public meetings across the state. "It will be a mind-blowing campaign," he said.
If it happens, this will be the first time that Priyanka Gandhi will be playing any sort of political role outside of Amethi and Rae Bareli, the constituencies of her brother, party vice president Rahul Gandhi, and her mother. Priyanka Gandhi has largely been confined to these two family boroughs, despite calls from across the party for her to have a bigger role.
The party spokesperson's "mind-blowing" comments didn't come out of the blue. In 2014, there had also been demands for Priyanka Gandhi to play a bigger role in the party's national campaign. Earlier this year, Prashant Kishor, the campaign strategist who has aided Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, suggested that Gandhi should be at the forefront of the Congress's UP effort. Then senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad echoed him.
After May 19, the voices got even louder – and the reason for this tells you all that you need to know about the Congress. That day results came in from four different states, and the Congress had managed to lose every one of them. (It picked up a consolation prize in the form of the Union Territory of Puducherry).
Every time the party does badly, the demands for Priyanka Gandhi to play a bigger role get louder. Why? Observers and laypersons alike see in her a more natural politician, at least compared to her brother, Rahul. Some of this may be Priyanka Gandhi's resemblance to her grandmother, the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
But much of it has to do with the party's realisation that the Nehru-Gandhi family is all they have left. Who was it that failed in the four states that went to the polls earlier this year? Sure, local leaders can take some of the blame. But in reality the Congress is doing so badly that they were even on the verge of losing non-election states – like Uttarakhand – because of the neglect of the High Command.
If the Congress had only lost in Kerala, where former Chief Minister Oomen Chandy had been beset by corruption allegations and anti-incumbency, you could blame it on the state leadership. For the party to do badly everywhere and then even face trouble in Karnataka, Manipur, Meghalaya and Punjab – where it appointed a leader tainted with allegations of involvement in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots to run the campaign – suggests a deeper malaise.
As the calls for Priyanka Gandhi to step in get louder, it's important to remember whose leadership was responsible for the failures everywhere else: Party President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka Gandhi's mother and brother.
What's more, both of them have had much more experience doing this than Priyanka Gandhi.
Sonia Gandhi, the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has now been a major player in Indian politics for decades now. And for better or for worse, Rahul Gandhi has hit the ground and been the major driver of change within the party for the last five years.
A proper appraisal of the Congress would ask the simple question: Why is the party already turning to the next Nehru-Gandhi saviour when the coronation of the last one hasn't even been completed yet? Rahul Gandhi has been president-in-waiting for at least three years now, if not more, and yet people are already looking beyond him to his sister.
If they are to be the saviours of the party, why weren't Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi given bigger roles a long time ago? Because the party realises that, in some ways, that there are no more cards to play after them. If both Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have failed and Sonia Gandhi is no longer well enough to continue politicking, what really will be left of the Congress?