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Rahul files papers, Priyanka fires party

Amethi, April 5: Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination today, officially claiming the Nehru-Gandhi family mantle for the fifth generation as mother Sonia looked on — her otherwise inscrutable face touched by emotion — and sister Priyanka led the cheers.

She herself did not need a cheerleader.

Along the 130-km stretch from Lucknow to Sultanpur and Munsiganj in Amethi, word had spread that she was accompanying her mother and brother.

In an orange salwar kameez, dotted with chocolate spots and a light yellow dupatta, she stood in the open vehicle waving to the huge crowd that had gathered at Sultanpur and reaching out to touch them.

Thousands marched, some running with the vehicle for at least a kilometre. At Inhona, she stepped off, ignoring security warnings, and was amidst the people.

At the Sultanpur district magistrate’s office, Rahul filed his papers for Amethi. Outside the family, there was Satish Sharma, who is the candidate for Sultanpur. As Rahul put his final signature, Priyanka cheered with the crowd. “It is an emotional moment for me,” Sonia said.

Turned out in the Congress uniform of white kurta and pyjama, Rahul sought the blessings of his mother and waiting supporters. “I have made a small beginning here and I hope to do better for the constituency in the future.” Asked how he was proposing to improve his party’s prospects, Rahul shot back: “At present, I have vowed to serve the constituency.”

Sonia is likely to file her nomination papers tomorrow for Rae Bareli. The three are expected to spend the night at Munsiganj Guest House, adjacent to Sanjay Gandhi Health Centre, the family’s gift to the constituency.

In Munsiganj, a large hoarding read: “Bharat me pujjya hai nari, Sonia Gandhi bahu hamari (In India, women are worshipped and Sonia is our bahu).”

It was meant to be an answer to the BJP’s campaign about her “foreign origin”.

For Sonia, Amethi was making a political statement. For Rahul, there were laudatory posters. For Priyanka, there was more — to the Congress supporter anxious for a straw to clutch she seems to radiate expectations that would appear unrealistic.

BJP ka Lanka, jalayenge Priyanka (BJP’s Lanka will be set on fire by Priyanka),” said a poster. The Jagdishpur industrial area in Amethi could well symbolise this Lanka. The journey for the three sparked to life here, with hundreds gathered on the roadside.

Jagdishpur is wasting away in industrial sickness. “Among the 20-odd factories which used to run here, only three, including (government-owned) Bhel, survive. At least five ancillary units have closed down. They are now hoping Priyanka-Rahul will do something,” said Jagdish Piyus, who edits a local magazine, Amethi Samachar.

Senior party activists said Priyanka might not be contesting, but she would be a key campaigner in some of the high-profile Congress constituencies.

“She would be camping at the Munsiganj guest house for the better part of next fortnight along with her mother and brother,” one of them said.

Besides the three seats of Amethi, Rae Bareli and Sultanpur, Congress supporters are hoping on Priyanka making an impact in at least six other constituencies. “In January, she had come to tell us that from now on Rahul will look after us. We were missing her during the Rahul show on March 29 (when he visited Amethi). We are thrilled that she was around today,” said 45-year-old Rasul Ahmed.

Rasul, a farmer of Kharsa village, had brought a packet of rose petals for her.

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