The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Priyanka renews Amethi bond

Paharpur Purwa (Amethi), Nov. 23: She came like a goddess. Wrong. “She is a goddess.”

The words of adoration tumbled out of Ram Bhajan, a landless Dalit in this sleepy hamlet who was fighting in vain for justice against Thakur landholders till Priyanka stepped in.

Bhajan had angered the Thakurs as he had refused to do “begar” for them.

“Come with me,” Priyanka told him after hearing his story at the guesthouse where she is camping since Tuesday night. She drove straight to the Sangrampur police station and asked its in-charge to register a case under the Dalit Act against five Thakurs and waited for three hours till she got a copy of the FIR.

“See, what’s your condition under a Dalit chief minister who is only interested in your votes,” she told the villagers before moving on to the next village. But by that time, she had made at least one conquest — Bhajan. “U tho devi hain,” he says.

Last time when her motorcade passed through Amethi villages to campaign for her mother Sonia Gandhi, Priyanka had taken the constituency by storm. That was during the 1999 Lok Sabha elections and slogans like “Priyanka Gandhi Amethi ki aandhee” welcomed her.

This time, as Munna Singh Trishanku, a local Congress worker accompanying her, puts it: “She has come as a whiff of fresh air, spreading fragrance and radiating hope.”

Congress workers and the local administration were caught by surprise when Priyanka drove to the guesthouse of Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital in Munshiganj unannounced.

The next morning she went to Guranva to commiserate with family members of the late Noor Mohammed, Congress MLA from Gauriganj who died last month, and then to the native village of deceased Congress MLC Jamuna Shukla. Then she started her weeklong mass-contact tour.

Since then, Priyanka has been holding meetings in different areas and picking up villages at random for spot visits. “This is a personal visit,” Priyanka maintains, silencing questions about her political ambition that every visit to Amethi invariably raises. “I could not come to Amethi for two-and-a-half years because of my family preoccupations. But now I’ll visit Amethi every two months.”

She has no plans to campaign for the Congress in Gujarat. “Only time will tell. How can I answer a hypothetical question'” she counters, asked if she was still sticking to her earlier decision of keeping off the electoral arena in future.

Priyanka’s day begins early in the morning. She meets local party workers before the light blue Tata Safari rolls out with her entourage on to the meandering dusty roads of Tiloi, Jagdishpur, Gauriganj and Salon in and around Amethi.

“Turn left, I want to go to Pathak Ka Purva,” Priyanka suddenly tells the driver. The half-a-dozen cars change course. Priyanka is the first to jump off and starts walking towards the harijan tola through the serpentine lanes, her Kolhapuri chappals covered with dust.

“Isn’t he lovely'” she says as she approaches a group of women and picks up a child. “I am sorry I could not come for such a long time but now I, too, have to look after my children,” she explains in Hindi.

Kais aho bitiya'” asks 60-year-old Gunjali, trying to have a closer look.

Amma, tumhe to motiabind hai (You are suffering from cataract.),” Priyanka tells the puzzled woman as she directs the constituency in-charge accompanying her to arrange for an operation.

A daughter, who as a housewife now, has her own children to look after, Priyanka has struck instant rapport with the people.

She has a word for everybody. She advises the young to concentrate on studies and asks the youth: “Kuchh kaam karte hain (Are you doing some work)'”

She listens to the elders and their complaints of lack of development and promises to help whenever she can. She asks women about their children and wants them to play a greater role in decision-making. And she does not forget to put the palloo of her orange red bandhej sari over head when she visits the Durga temple in Gauriganj.

It is an intimate one-to-one relationship that Priyanka is seeking to establish with the people of Amethi and local Congress workers. But politics is not far behind. “While we are trying to do everything, the Central and state governments are not co-operating,” Priyanka keeps telling them.

At the meetings of block Congress workers every morning and evening, Priyanka the adept political manager comes into being. She knows every block level worker by name and refuses to be fooled by sycophants.

“Why did Congress lose the Amethi Assembly seat'” she asked at one such meeting. And she was ready with the retort before the fumbling party worker could come up with an explanation. “Infighting has been the bane of the Congress,” she rasped, “but you are still not learning.”

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