Priyanka Gandhi, more of a humanitarian than a politician, is just the leader UP needs to reverse regression

Priyanka Gandhi stands out as a strong, fearless leader in a state where politics has become less about progress and development and more about revenge and apathy

Priyanka Gandhi, more of a humanitarian than a politician, is just the leader UP needs to reverse regression

Amrit Prakash Pandey

On July 8, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Ritu Singh, who wanted to contest for the Block Pramukh elections from Pasgawan block in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh, accused Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers for manhandling her and trying to pull off her saree (the video was all over the internet) on the last day of filing of nominations.

It was not the first incident of its kind; widespread violence from several districts of UP was reported during the civic polls. One of the main reasons seems to have been the fact that after losing the Panchayat polls held recently – with the people being angry at Yogi govt’s mishandling of the COVID crisis – the BJP was desperate not to have a repeat and resorted to all sorts of machinations.

Of course, violence against women in Uttar Pradesh has only risen under the BJP’s regressive rule in the state. The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data suggests that crime against women has risen over the year under the Yogi government from 56,011 cases reported in 2017 to 59,853 in 2019.

According to the NCRB, 87 rape cases are reported daily in India and in 2019, UP topped the list with 59,853 such incidents. The state also has the highest number of crimes against girl children under the POCSO Act, with 7,444 cases registered in 2019. In the last 4 years, crime against women has risen by 67 per cent.

Incidents of rape, molestation and an atrocity like that committed against Ritu Singh have become common, even forgettable. It takes a great deal of empathy to understand the pain suffered by those who fall victim to such incidents.

When Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi visited the state recently, people in some quarters were surprised when she made it a priority to meet Ritu Singh. This was more so as no leaders from the SP, including its president Akhilesh Yadav, whose permanent residence is in Lucknow and who is seen attending many weddings in the state, bothered to visit her.

Priyanka Gandhi’s gesture made her stance clear: this wasn’t about politics, but humanity.

Priyanka Gandhi has had the mammoth task of changing things around for Congress in Uttar Pradesh where the party has not been in power for the last 31 years. The party had little to no cadre when she took command in 2019 as general secretary in-charge of UP.

Since then, things have been rapidly changing. The Congress now has a district committee and block committee complete and running. It has also moved to the village level and is about to complete its Nyay panchayat committee, which will help the party strengthen its position in the 2022 Vidhan Sabha election.

Since Priyanka Gandhi last visited Lucknow in late December of 2019, when the CAA-NRC protests were on, things have changed dramatically. Collectively, humanity has faced one of its hardest times in history due to COVID-19.

During the first wave of COVID, the main crisis was the migration of the people working in large cities back to their homes and villages as the chaotic lockdown imposed by the BJP-led Union government did not take India’s vast unorganised labour force into consideration before imposing what is considered one of the most stringent lockdowns around the world. Most of them had no food or money to survive during the lockdown, forcing many of them to march back to their homes on foot.

At that time, Priyanka Gandhi had provided 1000 buses to transport the labourers. However, the Yogi-led BJP government had resorted to petty politics, claiming that out of 1049 buses which were offered, 463 either did not have a proper certificate or the registration numbers were for some other vehicles.

During such a humanitarian crisis, the Yogi govt managed to stymie the help offered by Priyanka Gandhi, with not a single bus being used by the government to help the migrants who were starving and dying due to accidents while walking home.

Ever since she has taken a plunge into active politics, Priyanka Gandhi has ensured that the party takes a stand on things she believes are unjust in the state. This includes women’s safety, the rise in prices of food and LPG, and of course the dire mishandling of the COVID crisis.

She is front and central as an opposition leader, whether it was helping the migrants/common people during COVID or voicing her support for justice to the rape victim of Hathras and reaching out to her family.

She was the only leader who reached out to the Nishad community – which is largely involved in sand dredging, boating, and fishing – when their boats were damaged by the administration in the early week of February and provided them Rs 10 lakh as compensation.

She also met farmers protesting against the three farm laws and attended Kisan Mahapanchayats, voicing her support for farmers who continue to protest till this day for the repeal of the laws brought into play by the Modi government.

Priyanka Gandhi stands out as a strong, fearless leader in a state where politics has become less about progress and development and more about revenge and apathy.

(The writer is a political researcher and former student of election campaign and democracy from University of London)

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Published: 20 Jul 2021, 7:17 PM