Priyanka’s Wayanad entry: Relief for Cong; dilemma heightened for LDF

Priyanka replacing Rahul for Wayand has saved the rift-riddled Congress in Kerala of discomfiture, but left the LDF and its CPM embarrassed and now forced to find a new campaign plank after the last one was sweepingly rejected by Kerala voters.
 Priyanka Gandhi
Priyanka Gandhi

# Ajayan

 A strategic and astute political manoeuvre, allowing Priyanka Gandhi to contest from Wayanad— a seat her brother Rahul chose to forego in favour of Raebareli— has spared the Congress party from several potential embarrassments, but has added to those of the LDF

Rahul's triumph in Raebareli, in the heart of the Hindi heartland where the BJP had long held sway, signaled that he would need to relinquish Wayanad - a constituency that had staunchly supported him twice, even when voters in Uttar Pradesh turned away from him in the Congress stronghold of Amethi during the previous election. It was a significant victory for the Congress and the INDIA front it leads, demonstrating substantial inroads into the Hindi belt. While his decision to leave Wayanad was a strategic political move, he has fulfilled his promise to the voters of Wayanad by ensuring they are not left dissatisfied.

Priyanka, the driving force behind Congress's successful election campaign this time, is stepping into the electoral arena for the first time. She played a pivotal role in her brother's victorious campaign in Wayanad. Given the current political climate, pundits are eager to see if she can surpass her brother's margin of 3.64 lakhs in this election or the impressive 4.3 lakhs from 2019. As it stands, Priyanka's path to victory in Wayanad, where her brother was first introduced as a surprise candidate, appears to be just easy.

A strategically crafted move by the Congress, Priyanka's entry into Wayanad is poised to strengthen the party's foothold in Kerala and extend its influence in the South, where it already boasts Karnataka and Telangana in its favour. Having tasted success as a minor ally of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, the Congress aims to solidify its position in the region. Priyanka's presence in Kerala, alongside her brother Rahul, is expected to bolster the Congress and the UDF's prospects, especially with the impending Assembly by-elections in Palakkad and Chelakkara, followed by the one for local bodies.

Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and party leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

The decision by the 'high command' to field Priyanka has effectively rescued the Congress in Kerala from the challenge of finding a candidate. Amidst internal strife and the pressure tactics of the Muslim League, which had seemingly taken over the party's Rajya Sabha seat under the guise of demanding a third Lok Sabha seat, Priyanka's selection has quelled potential conflicts. Furthermore, with the CPM and the LDF aggressively courting minority voters, there were strong suggestions, even demands, for the Congress to nominate a Muslim candidate once Rahul vacated Wayanad. However, with Priyanka's nomination, any communal barriers that could have been erected have been dismantled.

The BJP, despite making modest inroads and securing only Suresh Gopi's success - largely attributed to his charisma as an actor and diligent constituency work - lacks substantial prospects for mounting a significant challenge. Criticism from some of its leaders in Kerala, alleging that Rahul had abandoned the State, overlooks the fact that Modi had successfully contested from Vadodara in Gujarat and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in 2014 before ‘abandoning’ his home State and shifting focus to UP.

The ruling LDF, particularly the all-powerful CPM, finds itself in a bind once more. After the humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, where voters selectively handed its leaders resounding defeats, the CPM must now brace itself for yet another round of public discontent.

If the CPM decides not to field a candidate against Priyanka, citing her affiliation with the INDIA front, it would essentially be admitting that the Congress holds a dominant position in Kerala, and the BJP is the primary Opposition—a bitter pill for the CPM to swallow. On the other hand, if it does nominate a candidate, it will struggle to find a compelling campaign platform. In the last election, the CPM vehemently attacked Rahul, sinking to astoundingly low levels and painting the contest as LDF versus BJP in the State. But it was cautious to spare Modi and focused on wooing the minorities with its opposition to the CAA. This, to a great extent, did help the BJP increase its vote share. This time around, the CPM has little else to offer. Their flopped think-tank will have to scramble to find some compelling sort of message to campaign on.

While most leaders accepted defeat gracefully and even priests, who had staunchly supported the party despite its growing shortcomings, bowed to the electoral verdict, the one and only prominent leader found it hard to swallow. He unleashed his ire on a priest who had consistently spouted rhetoric in the party's favour but chose this time to speak candidly, branding him "ignorant". The message sent out to voters is crystal clear: not even a catastrophic defeat can manage to inject some sense to make the party deviate to the correct path.

The CPM's LDF is apparently losing its grip, and the BJP is a mere footnote in Wayanad's political landscape leaving only a golden opportunity for the Congress to fortify its stronghold, despite the rumblings of groups within it.

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