The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cheers for cricket, eye on polls Karachi pitch to sell peace, bond with youth
Colours of victory: Priyanka and Rahul cheer Team India in Karachi on Saturday. (AFP)

March 13: When the target is “young India”, cricket has to be the link.

10 Janpath insiders have confirmed that the GeNext Nehru-Gandhis will have “some participation” in election 2004 and that Rahul and Priyanka’s presence in Karachi is part of a well thought-out strategy.

As cricket cuts across all barriers, the idea, sources said, is to bond with the youth in a country where 52 per cent of the population is below 25. The other plan, they added, is to send a subtle message to the minorities that like Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sonia Gandhi’s “family”, too, has a “cherished desire” to restore India-Pakistan relations.

The strategy was worked out at a series of informal meetings within the family and with “well wishers”, who included apolitical persons.

The sources said broader contours of Priyanka’s and Rahul’s participation in politics are being worked out. One of the plans involves a sort of “carpet-bombing” in 100-odd constituencies where the Congress has a strong presence or finished a close second last time to take its tally beyond 150 seats.

About 30 of these constituencies will be in Uttar Pradesh which, party strategists believe, would “make or mar” Sonia Gandhi’s chances of becoming Prime Minister. Constituencies in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Assam, Rajasthan, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Delhi have also been marked out.

Another plan being worked on involves Rahul and Priyanka as candidates — a pressing demand from the rank and file. Invitations from down south to Amethi and Rai Bareli have been pouring in for the siblings.

The third envisages a scenario in which Rahul is a candidate while Priyanka focuses on campaigning. However, an equally enthusiastic section wants Priyanka to contest and Rahul to campaign. This section feels that if Priyanka contests, it would result in “long time benefits” for the party.

Sources, however, said Priyanka and Rahul are somewhat apprehensive. According to their assessment, entry in politics is not merely a question of adorning public offices or keeping the “family flag” flying high. Sources close to them said they have been thinking of the larger question — their future role and their ability to “do justice” in the face of the exaggerated expectations from Congress workers.

They are also thinking about the time after the elections, the sources added.

What happens if the party fares badly, triggering bitterness and bickering within the “Congress parivar”' As a source close to the family said: “There is no problem about the entry. It is the exit route that is bothering.”

But, for the moment, it is cricket — and its mass appeal — that the party is trying to cash on. Rahul loves the game.

On November 4, 2001, Rahul was seen bowling gentle off-spinners at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi in a friendly between 10 Janpath and scribes covering the Congress beat.

Packed with the athletic Special Protection Group guards, the 10 Janpath team trounced the media side by eight wickets with his brother-in-law Robert Vadra doing an Inzamam-ul-Haq, getting himself run out. Rahul picked up two wickets and scored 25 runs.

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