The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Durbar drives dynasty diehards
- Priyanka’s Delhi debut has Congress agog with expectation

New Delhi, June 16: Every time Priyanka Gandhi sneezes, Congress supporters get infected by the hope that she is joining the party.

Although in this north Indian heat all will wilt, hope has sprung again in their hearts. Tomorrow, Priyanka is meeting party leaders from Amethi, her mother’s constituency, and neighbouring Rae Bareli, her late grandmother’s.

Priyanka has been visiting Sonia Gandhi’s constituency at regular intervals, most recently two months ago when her camaraderie with the Dalits of the area had Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati belching fire. So what’s new this time' Never has she met party leaders from the region in Delhi.

That’s enough to fan expectations among dynasty watchers who started counting the days before she followed others in the family into the party of her great grandfather when she first accompanied her mother on election campaigning about five years ago.

Since then, rumours of her impending debut would start flying every once in a while. But Priyanka has not yet responded to the desperate pleas of Congress supporters to put some of her youthfulness into the party’s crumbling edifice in Uttar Pradesh.

The meeting with block Congress leaders at the residence of family friend Capt. Satish Sharma, the MP from Rae Bareli, is seen as a signal that even if she does not officially join the party, Priyanka is serious about keeping the family flag flying in the two constituencies. Sharma’s bungalow is used as the Delhi office for coordinating Sonia’s Amethi-related work, sources said.

It appears that the meeting was initially supposed to take place in Amethi itself, but Priyanka asked the leaders to come to Delhi instead.

While the agenda for the low-key meeting is not known, sources said strengthening the party machinery for the next election would be Priyanka’s priority, given that the Congress nominee was defeated in the recent bypoll in the Gauriganj Assembly segment of the Amethi parliamentary constituency.

Her involvement is not confined to merely coordinating between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party workers, and between the party and the people. The sources said hers is emerging as a decisive voice in party affairs in the two constituencies, which has led some to speculate that she may be considering her electoral debut from Rae Bareli, the late Indira Gandhi’s seat.

For instance, Priyanka is understood to have discussed with local activists erstwhile Amethi Congress leader Sanjay Singh’s apparent desire to return to the party. Singh, who had won Amethi as a BJP nominee in 1998, lost to Sonia in the 1999 polls.

Priyanka asked the lobby backing Sanjay: “Would his return make a difference between victory and defeat'”

No one was ready to reply and the answer to the question of embracing the prodigal Singh was found: No. Not for now, at least.

It is a question that Congress supporters possibly also have for Priyanka: will she or won’t she take the plunge' She has not replied. Nor has her mother, who has said the decision is entirely hers.

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