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Priyanka chips away at ‘walls’

Lucknow, Dec. 17: Priyanka Vadra today kicked off a series of meetings with Congress workers in her mother’s parliamentary constituency Rae Bareli, sticking to her plan of “removing walls” to rebuild what a local veteran said was an organisation in tatters.

The unannounced visit came less than a fortnight after Sonia Gandhi’s daughter met Doon School authorities over her son Raihan’s admission in Class VII next year.

Priyanka, who reached Rae Bareli last night for the two-day visit, met block-level representatives she had appointed last month. Reporters were not allowed into Bhuemau guesthouse where she met the local leaders.

A party source said Priyanka would meet at least 50 block-level leaders in Rae Bareli, where Congress candidates had lost in all five Assembly segments in the Uttar Pradesh elections earlier this year. “When she began talking to us one by one, she rarely smiled,” the source added.

A Congress insider said district leaders had been on edge till Sonia handed over the responsibility of campaigning in Rae Bareli to her daughter, though a local veteran underlined the “challenges” ahead.

“The party organisation appears to be in tatters,” said the veteran, adding the reason was district committee leaders had never allowed grassroots workers to talk to Sonia or her son, Amethi MP Rahul.

Since last month, however, Priyanka has introduced a three-tier system of complaint cells at all the Assembly segments here right down to the panchayat level, breaking from the old system of letting family representative K.L. Sharma collect grievance applications and forward them to Sonia’s office.

Ram Bahadur Gupta, a block president from Khairon who met Priyanka when she visited Rae Bareli last month, said she was “removing the walls between us and the leaders who command”.

Akhilesh Singh, Peace Party MLA from Rae Bareli Sadar, however, said whatever Priyanka did, the “charm of the Gandhi family icons” had worn thin. “It is like 1977 when Indira Gandhi had faced stiff challenge. No Assembly segment has any representation of the party.”

But a teacher in Rae Bareli said “like her grandmother”, Priyanka too “has quickly learnt the art of identifying problems for redress”.

Sources said Priyanka today told the block leaders to explain to the poor how money would be sent to their accounts through the Aadhaar-based cash transfer scheme. “But first make sure all the poor have got Aadhaar cards,” she is said to have told them.

Early this month, Priyanka had visited Doon School and met headmaster Peter McLaughlin. School officials confirmed the visit but said as there was no system of direct admission, Raihan would have to appear for a test.