| Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi listen to Sonia announcing her resignation at 10 Janpath on March 23. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, April 4: Rahul Gandhi will manage his mother’s Lok Sabha byelection from Rae Bareli.
The Congress’s eager-beavers who were making a beeline for Sonia Gandhi’s constituency, which goes to polls on May 8, were politely told to keep away from Rae Bareli and divert their time, energy and resources to the five Assembly elections.
“Our Delhi visa office will not issue visas to any outsider. Nobody will be allowed to cross the Lucknow border,” a Congress veteran said in jest.
Sonia is expected to give the cue by appearing in Rae Bareli just twice: once to file her nomination and then to address meetings on another day. The nomination can be filed between April 13 and 20.
Sources said the Congress president would take a look at her hectic campaign schedule for the five state elections and then squeeze in a day for Rae Bareli.
Unlike in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, when her daughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra camped in Rae Bareli and oversaw the process, Sonia has decided to leave it to Rahul this time.
In 2004, Rahul was preoccupied with making his Lok Sabha debut from Amethi, as a result of which Priyanka helped her mother.
Sources said that apart from giving Rahul a second chance to familiarise himself with the mechanics of electioneering, including booth management and voter mobilisation, the larger political signal the Congress hoped to beam was that he would not shy away from the heat and dust of heartland politics.
“If she surpasses her earlier victory margin, a large portion of the credit will go to Rahul,” said a source.
Not that Rahul needed to work overtime because Priyanka has put a mechanism in place, according to Uttar Pradesh Congress sources.
Her ground rules for the Gandhi fief in Rae Bareli-Amethi were:
No “outsider”, including the UP Congress president and the central general secretary in charge of the state, could come in.
The sources said that if another high-profile leader camped there, the credit for victory would invariably be diffused. “This causes a lot of heartburn in the foot soldiers,” a party leader said said. When Arjun Singh set foot in Rae Bareli last time, he was reportedly told by the Congress workers that he should leave.
Even the local workers should ground themselves in their villages and not migrate from one to another.
They should work “selflessly” without expecting instant rewards. The example of the late R.P. Singh, the “ruler” of the Deeh block of Amethi, was quoted as a model. An MLA several times over, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha when P.V. Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister. Singh was about to be sworn in minister in Rao’s cabinet but he refused to take the oath of office in a ministry which, he said, was bereft of Rajiv Gandhi.
The only exceptions to the “local” norm will be Sanjay Singh and his wife, Ameeta Singh, who is a legislator. They hail from Amethi and were expected to be with Sonia when she files her nomination and later.
The sources said that while the campaign themes would be finetuned by the Congress’s central coordination committee shortly, the Uttar Pradesh leaders have made some suggestions.
They feel that rather than focusing on the “sacrifice” plank and the office-of-profit controversy, Sonia should speak of the omissions and commissions of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government and the UPA government’s “achievements” in the social sector.
“The Rae Bareli election will set the tone and tempo for the Assembly elections and the Congress president should focus more on state issues,” a leader said.