Priyanka Vadra publicly flirting with the idea of contesting from Varanasi against PM Narendra Modi was itself fraught with dangers. Seemingly chickening out of it is even more damaging.

On Thursday, after much open speculation about whether it will field Priyanka, the Congress announced that Ajai Rai will contest the seat. Rai had got more than 5 lakh votes less than Modi in 2014.

The Congress most likely used the ploy to gauge the poll temperature and take attention off Modi’s campaign. It got TV anchors talking about Priyanka on the day Modi is supposed to have a grand roadshow.

Also read: What Priyanka Vadra’s plunge means for Uttar Pradesh in 2019 elections

But has the strategy worked? Can Congress entirely blame the fiasco to media speculation? What does this do to the party?

Wrecks cadre morale

It will severely demoralise the cadre in not just eastern UP which Priyanka is in charge of, but in entire Uttar Pradesh. They knew Priyanka would lose to Modi, but they were bracing for a high-voltage fight that took away limelight from the Mahagathbandhan. It could also have sown the seeds of a Congress revival in UP.

The brother fled too

In a way, the Gandhis have served a terrible double-whammy to UP Congress workers. Rahul Gandhi lost nerve in his fight against BJP’s star Smriti Irani in the family own bastion Amethi and chose Wayanad as a second ‘safe’ seat. That was a sucker punch to the party’s own cadre and brought much joy to BJP. And now Priyanka. It is a triple whammy if you consider that Sonia Gandhi has not campaigned at all.

Priyanka’s halo ebbs

Politics is a game of perceptions. First building hype around Priyanka’s candidature from Varanasi and then shying from it takes away considerable halo from her. Honeymoons get over when the expectation of magic gets over. Silly statements, retracted bravado are all recipe for that. Already hundreds of UP-ites are yelling into TV mikes: “Priyanka aay ya koi bhi aay, jitega toh Modi hi.” It is a pernicious message for the party.

Also read: Will Priyanka Gandhi contest from Varanasi?

Lost chance of a holy dip

Varanasi is the centre of the Hindu spiritual universe. It is arguably the most ancient living, breathing city in the world. As a challenger from here, Priyanka could have neutralised the anti-Hindu, pro-Muslim image of the Congress to a fair extent. With Ganga aarti and temple visits, she could have created a powerful image. A chance the party let go.

Also read: 5 reasons why Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s Hindu temple run is failing

Smell of sibling rivalry?

And finally, people will wonder if Rahul Gandhi did not want Priyanka to contest from Varanasi because it would take away all attention from him. Also, would the cadre have gravitated heavily towards the sister has she taken the Varanasi plunge?

There are no easy answers, but the Varanasi fiasco certainly leaves behind many questions.