Lok Sabha Elections 2024 | Priyanka Gandhi fronts Congress campaign and is backroom strategist too in Amethi, Raebareli

Discussing her childhood, the pain of her father Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and her mother’s grief while she steers the Congress campaign in Raebareli and Amethi, Priyanka Gandhi adroitly walks the tightrope between striking a familial chord and discussing national level issues.
Last Updated : 13 May 2024, 10:46 IST
Last Updated : 13 May 2024, 10:46 IST

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Raebareli/Amethi, Uttar Pradesh: It’s a familiar concept in sports, less so in politics but if there has ever been a non-playing captain in the rough and tumble that is the electoral arena it has to be Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who is here, there and everywhere in the two constituencies long associated with her family.

Discussing her childhood, the pain of her father Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination and her mother’s grief while she steers the Congress campaign in Raebareli and Amethi, Priyanka Gandhi adroitly walks the tightrope between striking a familial chord and discussing national level issues.

The aim is to ensure a win for her brother, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, from Raebareli and close family aide Kishori Lal Sharma from Amethi. They are up against the BJP’s relatively low profile Dinesh Singh in Raebareli and the star power of Union minister Smriti Irani in Amethi.

Priyanka Gandhi’s task is cut out as she races against time to win the confidence of voters in the two adjoining constituencies, working to counter a latent Ram temple sentiment in favour of the BJP and Irani riding on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal in the Hindi heartland.

The spotlight firmly on her, Priyanka Gandhi is strategist, orator and mass mobiliser as she camps in Raebareli to maximise her party’s chances of victory in the two seats.

At a packed party workers’ meeting in Amethi last week, the Congress leader narrated the story of a woman sitting in the audience who wanted to educate her daughter but her father-in-law was against it. Undeterred, she stitched sari falls to fund her daughter’s education and managed to make her a graduate.

Priyanka Gandhi told the woman that she was inspired by her and then called her over to sit on stage. There were plenty of smiles all around and a few cheers too as the audience responded to a meeting that appeared to go beyond being just politics.

It was just one of the many instances in the last few days with during which Priyanka Gandhi went on a charm offensive with speeches centred around anecdotes from past elections - when she campaigned for her mother Sonia Gandhi or brother Rahul, or from her childhood when she accompanied her father Rajiv Gandhi who fought multiple elections from Amethi.

In one meeting, she said she would fast for her father’s safety after he lost power and was in the opposition.

“I started keeping ‘maun vrats’ and my father asked why I was doing it on Sundays and told me, ‘It is the only day when I get some time to speak with you’,” Priyanka Gandhi narrated.

In her well-attended corner meetings, she sometimes also talks about her mother’s pain when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. “I have never seen my mother smile like she used to when my father was around.”

Most of her speeches are akin to a conversation with the crowd, establishing a connect and giving people the impression that this someone they know, someone sharing her feelings and thoughts with them.

That is also the message the Congress is also looking to convey with its social media campaigns, running hashtags such as ‘Raebareli ke Rahul’.

In her speeches, Priyanka Gandhi also repeatedly invokes the January 7, 1921 Munshiganj massacre during a farmers’ protest. While some accounts suggest the death toll was minimal, there are accounts that hundreds of people may have been killed. Her great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru visited at the time.

She points out that her great great grandfather Motilal Nehru also went to Rae Bareli to back the farmers and her family’s ties with this area are over 103 years old.

Accountability is a constant refrain.

To underscore her point, Priyanka Gandhi recounts how her father Rajiv Gandhi would patiently listen to the “scolding” by people of Amethi over some development work or the other even when he was the prime minister.

She also recalls the electoral loss the people of Raebareli handed to her grandmother Indira Gandhi when they thought her policies were not beneficial for them, a reference to the defeat the former prime minister suffered in 1977, post-emergency.

“She did not get angry with the people but went back and won their trust…bring back that politics which was about the people,” Priyanka Gandhi said at a recent meeting.

In her campaign speeches, Priyanka Gandhi also makes it a point to appeal to people to not vote on emotive issues based on religion and caste and vote for bread and butter issues to improve their daily lives.

She attacks Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Smriti Irani in equal measure, highlighting the “economic failures” of the Centre on one hand and Irani’s “single-minded quest to defeat Rahul Gandhi”.

“The MP from here did not come here for you people, she did not come here for your development but came here to defeat Rahul Gandhi,” Priyanka Gandhi said in a corner meeting in Amethi and often repeats this charge.

Raebareli seems to be a relatively easier seat for the Congress with many people saying Rahul Gandhi would sail through from there against what several people view as a lightweight candidate, but the contest in Amethi is fierce and could be anybody’s election is the feeling among voters.

A group of people assembled in the main market in Amethi recently animatedly discussed the elections with each one claiming to have a hunch about the results.

Most of them were BJP supporters and contended that it is because of Prime Minister Modi that the Ram temple in Ayodhya could become a reality. They claimed Smriti Irani will bag a win but agreed that it would have been different had Priyanka Gandhi been in the fray.

A paan shop owner listening to the conversation announced emphatically that Sharma will triumph with Priyanka Gandhi leading a spirited campaign as several other bystanders joined him in support, nodding in agreement.

Some others in the market said it would be a close election and could be anyone’s game. Another bystander pointed out that Priyanka Gandhi’s corner meetings in nearby Raebareli were attracting large crowds and it seemed Congress would sail through there.

Everyone has a different take on the result but there was unanimity on one thing - Priyanka Gandhi could be a defining factor here in the otherwise ‘silent’ election as many people are calling it.

Her poll debut may not have happened and though she has not entered the proverbial playing arena, she is certainly proving to be the ‘non-playing captain’ for her team in Amethi and Rae Bareli.

Amethi has long been synonymous with the Gandhis but it is the first time in 25 years that a Gandhi family member is not contesting elections from the Lok Sabha seat. The Congress fortress was breached in the last general election in 2019 when Irani beat Rahul Gandhi by more than 55,000 votes. Sonia Gandhi defeated BJP’s Singh by over 1,67,000 votes in 2019.

Voting for the Amethi and Raebareli constituencies will take place on May 20 and the votes will be counted on June 4 along with the rest of the country.

Published 13 May 2024, 10:46 IST

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