Rae Bareli, April 11: No stranger to terror in the family, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had a brush with the terror that stalks large parts of northern India at election and other times.
Minutes after she arrived here — mother Sonia Gandhi’s constituency — she learnt from party activists how Akhilesh Singh, a Samajwadi Party MLA who was earlier with the Congress, was flexing his muscles.
“Because of his threats, many of our workers in the town unit of Rae Bareli failed to reach,” complained Avinava Shukla, a local Congress supporter. A group of women activists narrated the intimidation they had faced.
Her eyebrows furrowed, Priyanka called senior leaders for advice.
She was told that the supporters of the Samajwadi candidate from Rae Bareli, Ashoke Singh — Akhilesh’s brother — were pasting posters and shouting intimidating slogans as Congress activists prepared for her visit. They had terrorised the Rae Bareli town area.
“The politics of terror cannot go on. There is no need for you to be afraid,” Priyanka told Congress supporters.
She has known the terror that claimed the lives of her grandmother and father, but the people she was trying to reassure have known it all their life.
It’s just that the muscle-power is on the other side now. In the 2002 state election, Akhilesh Singh was the only Congress candidate to win from any of the Assembly segments that form the Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency. But he was suspended by the Congress and went over to the Samajwadi.
Later, Priyanka told the media: “It is time we stood up to the politics of terror. This has threatened to cripple our democracy.”
She said she would camp here longer, if necessary, for the people of the constituency. Priyanka has been in Rae Bareli since Thursday while brother Rahul has been visiting villages in his own constituency Amethi, accompanied by her husband Robert Vadra.
Amethi seems to be the easy part. In Rae Bareli, the Congress is riven by dissent. In the 1999 election, Satish Sharma, a family associate, had won with a low share of votes of 32 per cent.
Priyanka seems to think decentralising the party set-up is the answer to the Congress’ problems here.
This morning, she met all block-level leaders at Pandey Bhavan, a new party office, and instructed them to build a network of activists down to the last village and polling booth.
Only the very adventurous would attempt to hold rallies in the intense heat sweeping across northern India. As an alternative, she asked for volunteer groups to be built with the help of Seva Dal workers to reach out to villages.
She flagged off a huge vehicle that will act as a stage for a travelling theatre which will present a play called Sapno ka Saudagar, lampooning the Vajpayee government’s “feel-good” campaign.
In the play, a village doctor distributes “feel-good medicine” among patients whose condition only gets worse. The doctor is finally chased out of the village.
Standing in the sun in the audience, Priyanka broke into laughter as the play unfolded.
Later in the afternoon, she met women’s groups.
“As Soniaji is busy elsewhere campaigning, I would be here with you. She would, of course, be here for you but she would not be able to visit frequently,” Priyanka said, reminding them of their duty to take their families to polling booths early — often an answer to election-day terror.
They smiled in silent agreement before she took off with a “see-you-soon” promise. Akhilesh Singh would not be leaving Rae Bareli, though.