Priyanka formally enters politics as Cong general secretary for UP East
New Delhi: Gandhi family scion Priyanka Gandhi Vadra formally entered politics on Wednesday with the Congress appointing her general secretary for Uttar Pradesh East, ending years of speculation and signalling the party's intent to go full throttle in the state ahead of the general elections.
Priyanka Gandhi, 47, will take over her new assignment in the politically crucial state -- a Congress bastion till the mid 1980s -- from the first week of February, a statement from the party said.
She will assist her brother, Congress president Rahul Gandhi, in the Hindi heartland state, which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the largest of any state in the country.
The appointment is being seen as a masterstroke, which will infuse energy in party workers of a state where Congress influence has been waning over the years and where the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have announced a tie-up.
As political watchers debated the move and how it will impact political equations in the state, particularly with the SP and the BSP, Rahul Gandhi said he had no animosity against the two parties.
"I feel this decision will help initiate new thought in Uttar Pradesh and will bring a positive change in Uttar Pradesh politics," he told reporters in Amethi.
The SP and the BSP, he said, formed an alliance in Uttar Pradesh to defeat the BJP and he was ready to cooperate with them in the endeavour.
"Wherever we can work together to defeat the BJP we will... but our work is to create place for the Congress and for which we have taken a big step," he said.
"I am very happy that my sister Priyanka will assist me in Uttar Pradesh in the Lok Sabha polls. She is very capable," the Congress chief said.
Party workers speculated that Priyanka Gandhi, who continues the Gandhi family's legacy of active politics, may contest the polls from her mother Sonia Gandhi's constituency Rae Bareli.
Addressing the seemingly endless speculation about when Priyanka Gandhi would join politics, Sonia Gandhi had earlier said she would take the plunge when she decided to do so.
"Congress president has also appointed Smt Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as AICC general secretary for Uttar Pradesh East. She will be taking charge with effect from first week of February 2019," a statement from the party said.
Rahul Gandhi also appointed senior party leader Jyotiraditya Scindia as AICC general secretary for Uttar Pradesh West.
"We won't play on the back foot, we will play on the front foot, be it Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh," he said.
Party leaders said the responsibility for the state's 80 seats have been roughly divided 40-40 between Scindia and Priyanka Gandhi.
The two replace Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has been appointed AICC general secretary for Haryana, where the party is split into different factions.
Reorganising the party's structure ahead of the elections, the Congress chief appointed K C Venugopal as general secretary Organisation. He replaces Gehlot, who has since become chief minister of Rajasthan.
Venugopal will continue to be AICC general secretary for Karnataka, where the party is in power with the Janata Dal Secular.
Long known as a natural in politics who inherited her grandmother Indira Gandhi's charisma, Priyanka Gandhi was earlier actively involved in key decision making in the party along with her mother and brother, including the selection of new chief ministers for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh recently.
She was also instrumental in initiating the entry of Manpreet Badal and Navjot Singh Sidhu in the Punjab Congress.
The mother of two is married to Robert Vadra, who is embroiled in a land row in Haryana and Rajasthan and is facing probes by the Enforcement Directorate.
Congratulations P... always by your side in every phase of your life. Give it your best, Vadra said in a Facebook post.
Welcoming Priyanka Gandhi's formal entry into politics, Congress leader and former Union minister R P N Singh, who belongs to eastern Uttar Pradesh, said she will "definitely provide a big impetus to the fight against communal and casteist forces in the state".
The BJP said she was being brought in because Rahul Gandhi had failed.
"The Congress has basically publicly announced that Rahul Gandhi has failed and needs crutches from within the family. Because of his rejection by grand alliance parties, he has opted for a family alliance," said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.
However, Prashant Kishor, vice president of the JD(U), described the appointment as Congress' general secretary for Uttar Pradesh East as "one of the most awaited entries in Indian politics".