| Sonia Gandhi meets Hardoia villagers during the visit. (AFP)
Gaganpur Diaria (Amethi), May 18: She continued to command their reverence and loyalty. But as Congress president Sonia Gandhi concluded her three-day visit to Amethi yesterday, it was clear that she was walking in the shadow of her daughter.
“When will bitiaji come'” asked Ramkali, a resident of this stark, dusty village, where nearly a hundred Dalit houses were devastated in a fire last month.
Ramkali could not hold back her tears as Sonia presented her the keys of her new house — one of the 101 homes rebuilt by local Youth Congressmen after Priyanka’s visit to the village last month. Priyanka had promised the villagers that Congress men would rebuild their gutted homes through shramdan.
Sonia lauded local Congressmen for their “selfless work” and asked the villagers: “What has the state government, where the chief minister is the daughter of a Dalit, done for you'”
The Congress president clearly indicated that she would not be deterred by Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati’s aggressive campaign to woo Dalits in Amethi. Most of the villages like Jarotha, Harikiranpur, Keshavpur, Bhimapur, Chandauki and Pasi Ka Purva that she visited have a substantial Dalit population living on the fringes.
By projecting Priyanka’s model of social work as the new brand of Congress politics, Sonia sought to distance her party from the outfits in the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party- BJP mould.
Frequent references to the treatment meted out to Dalit Ram Bhajan of Punnupur village in Amethi underlined the theme of her interactions. Sonia told party workers in Munshiganj and Musafirkhana that while Mayavati’s government had done nothing for Ram Bhajan, whose house had been razed by Thakurs because of political rivalry, “Congressmen had rebuilt his house on Priyanka’s call”.
“Unlike others who lure people by emphasising (on) divisive issues on the basis of caste and community, the Congress believes in serving the people and party workers at the village, block and district levels,” she said at a party meet in Bahadurgarh.
Wherever she went, Sonia was confronted with the same question — will Priyanka enter politics soon' “Ask her when she visits Amethi next,” she told 35-year-old Sangeeta Tewari of Jarotha.
Although Sonia left the question unanswered, she was given enough evidence that Uttar Pradesh’s hapless Congressmen saw Priyanka as their only hope for reviving the party in the state.
The cry for Priyanka’s entry into politics was heard during Sonia’s last visit to Amethi in January, too, but this time the voices were shriller and more desperate.
“She alone can lead us to recover lost ground,” said former Tiloi MLA Mohammed Muslim. There was unanimous admission that though Sonia’s aura may be able to ensure her victory in the next Lok Sabha elections, Priyanka alone could lead the party’s revival in Uttar Pradesh.
The recent defeat in the Gauriganj Assembly constituency — which forms part of Amethi Lok Sabha constituency — seemed to be on her mind as Sonia urged partymen to work with “greater dedication and sense of purpose”.
Frequent references to “the enemies within” by Congressmen at her meetings clearly indicated that grassroots workers did not trust the leaders close to her. “While we sweat for the party in elections and manage polling booths, these self-styled leaders run around Delhi to curry your favour. Unless the dignity of the Congress workers is restored, the party cannot survive,” Ram Bilash Sonkar told her at a meeting of the Bahadurgarh block Congress committee in Jais.
Sonia asked her partymen “not to lose hope” despite the Congress’ shrunk support base in Uttar Pradesh.
“The wind of change is blowing. The people are already realising that the 15 Congress-ruled states were performing better than the non-Congress governments and if you work hard, they will return to you,” she said before leaving for Delhi.