The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Priyanka in poll punch-up

Lucknow, May 7: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has swept into the heat and dust of heartland politics, fighting a bare-knuckled battle with the Samajwadi Party that tried to get her thrown out of Rae Bareli.

“We have information that Priyanka’s security guards are planning to rig the poll tomorrow,” alleged Beni Prasad Verma, whose son-in-law Rajkumar Chaudhary is the Samajwadi candidate against Sonia Gandhi.

Verma marched to district magistrate Jitendra Kumar’s office this morning to complain against Sonia’s daughter and election agent. The complaint said she should be asked to leave Rae Bareli as she is accompanied by securitymen from Punjab and Haryana.

Priyanka, who threw a challenge on arrival last evening ' “There is no force which can defeat Sonia Gandhi. I invite you (the media) to name a person who can defeat her” ' hit back immediately. A counter complaint was sent to Kumar’s office before noon alleging that ministers of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government were violating Election Commission directives and trying to terrorise voters.

Fifty ministers, 24 MPs and five dozen MLAs had campaigned in Rae Bareli last week, the complaint said. “Two ministers and two MPs have been hiding in the constituency and the police, being loyal to the state government, are not enforcing the Election Commission order asking them to leave the constituency.”

All political functionaries receiving security from the state were told to leave once campaigning ended at 5 pm on Saturday. Brother Rahul, who had been running Sonia’s campaign, left Rae Bareli yesterday.

Priyanka also objected to the campaign slogan “More vote, more note” raised by Mulayam’s brother Shivpal, a minister. The Samajwadis scrambled to deny the suggestion that Shivpal was trying to bribe voters.

District magistrate Kumar said no substance was found in Verma’s complaint and the commission is not taking cognisance of it. But it has asked the superintendent of police to verify Priyanka’s complaint ' Beni Prasad is one of the four she has named ' and will act once he files his report.

S.K. Mendiratta, legal consultant to the Election Commission, said in Delhi that an election agent could not be asked to leave the constituency even if accompanied by security guards. In the eyes of the commission, the agent and the candidate are one, he said.

This is not the first time the feisty Priyanka ' unlike Sonia and Rahul, she takes to politics like a duck to water but would rather be mother to Rehan and Meera ' has taken the battle into the opposition’s court. Seven years ago in Rae Bareli, she had demanded to know how Arun Nehru, who had “backstabbed” her father and his cousin, was allowed to to even enter the constituency. “Jawab deejiye,” she told voters. He was routed as the Congress’s Satish Sharma won.

Battle fought, Priyanka retired to the Munshiganj Guest House in nearby Amethi where Rahul, husband Robert and their children are staying. She will return tomorrow, hoping to help Sonia better her 2.5-lakh victory margin, the heat that could keep voters inside her only worry.

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