The high-profile election battle in UP is not very far but both the national parties---the Congress and BJP---are struggling to find the suitable face to put up.
Both national parties are facing a common challenge: The face for UP
And both the parties have very little to choose from. While the Congress is, as usual, is confused over which Gandhi to go for---Rahul or Priyanka; the BJP can't decide a face who can be accepted as an alternative to the popular Varun Gandhi.
The two regional parties---ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), however, have no leadership problem. Their concern is more about anti-incumbency and corruption, respectively.
But the Congress and BJP's dilemma raises serious question on their ability to do well in UP in the next election, the result of which will be a precursor to the Lok Sabha election of 2019.
Hapless Congress has now resorted to ist last weapon: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
The former party has lost its base in the crucial state to such an extent that it now has to fall back on either of the siblings to save its face. The Congress though had the Gandhis based in Delhi and UP as its powerhouse but it never required any member of the first family to give it a face in the provincial elections earlier. The Nehrus and Gandhis always played their role at the national level though they had an influence in UP.
But what if the final weapon also fails to do it for Congress?
This time, after two back-to-back dismal performance in UP in the 2012 Assembly election (20 of 403 seats) and 2014 Lok Sabha election (2 of 80 seats), the Congress is virtually depending on the Gandhis to save it in all 403 Assembly seats of the state so that the hope of returning to power at the Centre in 2019 is not shattered completely.
The BJP's problem of choice is more democratic than that of the Congress
But this may be is the final resort for the Congress. If it involves Priyanka Gandhi Vadra too in this election besides its chief Sonia Gandhi and her deputy Rahul and yet fails to produce any magic, it could be all but over for a party which is already witnessing threatening implosions.
Strategist Prashant Kishor is trying permutations and combinations about Rahul and Priyanka so that the ultimate weapon doesn't lose its edge, but without any organisational strength to compete with the three powerful rivals, can only the change of face deliver any good on the ground?
BJP's problem is more democractic
The BJP, on the other hand, has a more democratic problem. In a bid to tackle Mayawati whose rainbow social coalition in the state has put her rivals in a spot in the past, the saffron party has a serious problem in choosing who over who.
Varun Gandhi or Rajnath Singh?
While surveys showed Varun to be the preferred candidate and Smriti Irani not getting much support, the reports about Home Minister and former UP chief minister Rajnath Singh have not found sympathy from many party supporters. In fact, two former BJP Mps have even accused Singh of dividing the backward community to help the ruling SP by prescribing a system of quota within quota.
Rajnath wasn't a successful CM nor will the Brahmins like his elevation
Singh did not have an impressive record as the chief minister of UP between 2000 and 2002 and neither the Thakur leader's elevation will be a happy sight for the Brahmins, who have traditionally enjoyed the clout in the BJP, but have not seen an equally towering leader since the exit of Atal Behari Vajpayee.
But with many BJP leaders now sidelined, Rajnath might be the only option for the BJP
But at the same time, with many top BJP leaders now being sidelined, Rajnath has remained the only veteran shoulder for the party to bank on. Kalyan Singh has been asked to chip in but he is too old now to become the CM.
The BJP top brass is under more pressure since the party succeeded in the Assembly election in Assam by projecting a CM candidate in Sarbananda Sonowal. But the task of picking a consensus chief ministerial candidate in UP is by no means an easy task.
Both the national parties are hence faced with a similar problem, though from a different perspective. It will be interesting to see who comes up with a better solution.