February 2022 is now a year away and so is the battle for Uttar Pradesh. The harder Priyanka Gandhi works for it, the more BJP should rethink its Hindutva strategy. With a holy dip in ‘Sangam’ (confluence of the Ganga,Yamuna and the mythological Saraswati) in Prayagraj on Thursday followed by a meeting full of ‘blessings’ with Shankarachayara Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati on Thursday, the Congress leader has given a subtle message to the BJP – Ram and Hindus fall in Congress’ roadmap too.

Priyanka Gandhi carefully chose the auspicious day – ‘Mauni Amawasya’ – when tens of thousands converge at the Sangam for a holy dip, which is believed to rid them of all sins.

Her Holy dip followed by a meeting with Shankaracharya, who gave her the mantra and blessings for success, set the tone for her ‘Mission Uttar Pradesh’.

Asked why Priyanka had suddenly begun to focus her energies on proving her identity as a Hindu, UP Congress Sewa Dal chief Pramod Pandey says, “I fail to understand why such questions are raised whenever a Nehru-Gandhi family member goes to offer prayers. Are Hindu Gods and rituals the exclusive property of a particular political party ?”

“Carrying out Hindu rituals have been a part and parcel of this family; Motilal Nehru and Jawaharlal Nehru used to come to Sangam to take a dip, Indira Gandhi did so and Sonia Gandhi also came to Sangam during the last Kumbh mela, so Priyanka ji is maintaining the tradition. It appears that people belonging to another ideology are feeling threatened by Priyanka ji’s dip at the Sangam on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya,” he added.

Senior journalist Sharat Pradhan, who has been covering the UP politics for decades, and has seen the rise and fall of the Congress and the subsequent rise of the BJP riding the Hindu wave, says, “Earlier, the BJP leaders used to look down upon members of the Nehru-Gandhi clan, and also accuse them of being anti-Hindu; so they get jittery when any member of the Congress party’s first family participates in a Hindu ritual.”

“This is not the first time that Priyanka is seen actively involved in such Hindu religious activity. Surely, the saffron brigade has started feeling threatened,” he added.

Another factor that seems to be working in favour of Priyanka Gandhi is Mayawati‘s not-so-hidden flip towards the BJP.

With Mayawati having lost her ground in the state after an abysmal performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BSP has in a way ceded to the BJP’s dominance in the state and has given Priyanka Gandhi enough ammunition to shake Mayawati’s Dalit voter base, which has largely voted against the BJP given the dominance of the upper caste in the party.

Priyanka Gandhi was quick to use the changed equation between the former rivals – the BJP and BSP – to her benefit by accusing the BSP leader of staying silent despite alleged atrocities on dalits in the Yogi raj.

Last year, while responding to the Uttar Pradesh government’s notice to her over her comments alleging that two girls were found pregnant at a child shelter home in the state, Priyanka Gandhi had said that “I am Indira Gandhi’s granddaughter and won’t shy away from speaking the truth” against the Yogi Adityanath government, unlike some “undeclared BJP spokesperson, like some of the opposition leaders”. This was a veiled attack on Mayawati.

Till about early last year, Priyanka’s on and off presence in the state gave enough fodder to the BJP, who called her an outsider or a passenger in the state. Come late 2020, she made her presence felt, and in a big way. Often taking to the streets over major issues, going house-to-house to meet people, and dodging cops to show her fearlessness, Priyanka Gandhi has made major inroads in UP politics.