Aug. 4: Sonia Gandhi has assigned daughter Priyanka Vadra to look after her constituency of Rae Bareli following consultations with son Rahul Gandhi, Congress sources said.
Every Wednesday, Priyanka will hold a janata durbar at her Lodhi Estate home in Delhi to interact with voters from Rae Bareli and try to solve their day-to-day problems.
Loyalists always looking for signs of the family’s greater involvement in politics are certain to view this as a precursor to Priyanka’s formal entry, possibly a little ahead of the 2014 general election, although she has ruled out any such move in her past media interviews.
Sonia’s preoccupation with the UPA and the party organisation, as well as her indifferent health, prompted her to seek her daughter’s help, the sources said.
Priyanka would be expected to help maintain Rae Bareli’s status as a “safe seat”, particularly after the Congress was routed in the Amethi-Sultanpur-Rae Bareli belt in this year’s Uttar Pradesh elections. The region holds significance for the Nehru-Gandhis, having sent Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sanjay Gandhi, Sonia and Rahul to Parliament.
Besides, Sonia and Rahul appear keen on Priyanka playing a more “proactive” role in the future, the sources added.
In Sonia’s assessment, Rahul will in 2014 face a challenge from three sides: the BJP and Narendra Modi; a Nitish Kumar-led third front; and a politically inclined Team Anna keen on queering his pitch. Sonia is not ruling out the possibility that at least two of these combinations would join hands to oppose Rahul’s candidature for Prime Minister, the sources said.
Priyanka once told an interviewer: “Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve figured out why myself, but I’m very clear I don’t want to be in politics. I’m very happy living my life the way I am. I think there are certain aspects of politics which I’m just not suited to.”
Congress insiders considered close to the Nehru-Gandhi family, however, remain optimistic, citing how Priyanka is also on record that she would go to “any extent” to help out Rahul.
Priyanka had shown what she can do in Rae Bareli as far back as 1999 when, as a campaigner, she helped family loyalist Satish Sharma defeat her uncle Arun Nehru, a BJP nominee. Addressing a rally, Priyanka had delivered a brutal putdown to Arun.
“Mujhe aap se ek shikayat hai. Mere pita ke mantri mandal mein rehte hue jisne gaddari ki, bhai ki peeth mein chhura mara — jawab dijiye — aise aadmi ko aapne yahan ghusne kaise diya? Unki yahan aane ki himmat kaise hui (I have a complaint against you. A man who committed treachery while remaining in my father’s ministry, who stabbed a brother in the back — answer me — how did you let such a man in here? How did he dare come here)?” she asked the voters.
“Yahan aane se pehle maine apni maa se baat ki thi. Maa ne kaha kisi ki burai mat karna. Magar main jawan hoon, dil ki baat aap se na kahun to kisse kahun (I spoke to my mother before coming here. She told me not to speak ill of anyone. But I am young; to whom shall I speak my mind if not to you)?”
Priyanka’s remarks were so fierce that even an ace orator like Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to dull their impact.
Vajpayee, who was Prime Minister then, visited Rae Bareli a day after Priyanka’s speech. In his typical style, he took a dig at Priyanka saying he was “scared” to visit Rae Bareli as it seemed to be someone else’s “ilaqa”. But it was too late: Arun’s fate had already been sealed.
This will not be the first time that Priyanka, who has often campaigned in the constituency, will directly and personally interact with Rae Bareli’s voters.
After his 1999 victory, a grateful Satish had handed her the keys of his MP’s bungalow, where he did not live. There, Priyanka would often meet a select few among the visiting throng from Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur while family loyalists Manoj Matto and Kishori Lal took care of the rest.