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'Speculation on Priyanka helps boost morale of Cong workers'

April 15, 2014 08:02 IST

'Speculation on Priyanka helps boost morale of Cong workers'

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Anita Katyal in New Delhi

Speculation about Priyanka Gandhi’s possible plunge into active politics invariably surfaces before a Lok Sabha poll, but soon subsides. This time, however, there appears to be no end to the whisper campaign in the Congress about the possibility of Priyanka assuming a more pro-active role in politics. Anita Katyal rerports.

There has been a spate of stories in the media over the past few weeks about Priyanka Gandhi Vadra assuming a larger role in the ongoing Lok Sabha polls with one newspaper stating that she was keen on contesting against Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in Varanasi but the idea was shot down by the party leadership.

These reports were denied by Priyanka Gandhi herself on Monday. She told television channels that she had chosen not to contest elections for personal reasons and nobody in her family had stopped her from entering politics.

“No one in my family would ever stop me from contesting an election. My brother, mother and husband would wholeheartedly support me if I wanted to contest,” Priyanka Gandhi told media persons.

“My brother has expressed to me many times that he thinks I should contest. But it is my personal decision not to do so. I will only change it when I feel from within I should”, she added.

Priyanka Gandhi’s categorical denial was meant to put an end to the swirling speculation about her political ambitions and future plans -- but that was not to be.

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Image: Priyanka Gandhi waves to her supporters after a meeting in Rae Bareli
Photographs: Pawan Kumar/Reuters

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'Priyanka's interest in politics started at an early age'

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Congress cadres or rather a section in the party continues to insist that Priyanka Gandhi will be playing a larger role in party affairs. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s younger sister has, so far, confined her political activities to her mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi and brother’s Lok Sabha constituencies Rae Bareli and Amethi.

In fact, Priyanka had clarified last week itself that she will only campaign in these two constituencies and nowhere else.

Speculation about Priyanka Gandhi’s possible plunge into active politics invariably surfaces before a Lok Sabha poll, but soon subsides. This time, however, there appears to be no end to the whisper campaign in the Congress about the possibility of Priyanka assuming a more pro-active role in politics.

This view gained further currency when Congress general secretary and senior party leader Janardan Dwivedi, who is known to choose his words carefully, told the media recently that Priyanka had always evinced keen interest in political development and that Rajiv Gandhi had mentioned this to him way back in 1990.

 "As far as I know, Priyanka’s interest in politics started at an early age. She was keen to understand political developments and the language of politics from the very start. I even have proof of this but I don't want to discuss it now. All I'll say is that Rajiv Gandhi told me something about this in 1990. That's all for the moment, " Dwivedi had said.

Since Dwivedi is not known to speak out of turn, his statement was seen as a clear hint that Priyanka Gandhi was ready for a new role in the party, setting off a fresh round of speculation.

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Image: Priyanka Gandhi with Sonia Gandhi wave to supporters during a rally in Bellary ahead of the 1999 general elections
Photographs: Reuters

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'These reports about Priyanka hold out hope for the dejected rank and file'

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These periodic news items about Priyanka are essentially a belated attempt to boost the sagging morale of the party rank and file as it is becoming increasingly clear that the ongoing Lok Sabha election is an unequal battle between a demoralised Congress and a resurgent BJP.

“These reports about Priyanka hold out hope for the dejected rank and file,” a senior Congress functionary told Rediff.com.

There is growing unease in the party over Rahul Gandhi’s failure to make an impact in these elections. Congress cadres are dismayed over the Nehru-Gandhi scion’s poor oratorical skills and his inability strike a rapport with crowds at public meetings.

Priyanka Gandhi, on the other hand, is seen to be more charismatic, easy-going and relaxed, who can establish an immediate connect with people. Her star appeal is further enhanced because of her resemblance to her grandmother Indira Gandhi.

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Image: Priyanka Gandhi greets supporters after a meeting at Rae Bareli
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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A tussle between pro-Priyanka and pro-Rahul factions in Cong?

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Although it is being murmured in the Congress circles that Priyanka Gandhi should play a more upfront role to boost the party’s electoral prospects, the sycophantic nature of the cadres prevents them from stating so as this would be tantamount to an indirect admission that Rahul Gandhi has failed to make a mark.

Another senior Congress leader had told Rediff.com a few weeks ago that he was often besieged by party workers who wanted him to tell Sonia Gandhi that “Priyanka didi” be given a more visible role.

“This is their way of suggesting that Rahul Gandhi has not been a success and that Priyanka ought to be fielded instead,” the Congress leader added.

Even though the two siblings are known to be extremely close, the periodic refrain of “Priynaka lao” is also being seen as a tussle between Rahul and Priyanka’s supporters in the party.

It is no secret that there is a section in the Congress which is feeling marginalised as it does not have easy access to Rahul Gandhi. It is this group, which includes ministers like Rajiv Shukla, who are said to be pitching for Priyanka Gandhi.

Although Priyanka Gandhi has denied reports about entering electoral politics, there is no doubt that she has stepped up her engagement in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections but it has primarily been a backroom role.

With Sonia and Rahul busy with the election campaign, she has been holding the fort for them but her involvement has stretched beyond handling their constituencies. She has been giving vital inputs on the party strategy, fine tuning Rahul and Sonia Gandhi’s speeches, planning their campaign and sitting in on meetings with senior Congress leaders.

“Of course, she is assisting her mother and brother…there is nothing new about it,” a senior Congress office-bearer told Rediff.com.

Reports about Priyanka Gandhi’s enlarged role in the ongoing elections first came to light in January when she was seen entering her brother’s 12 Tughlak Lane residence to attend a meeting with top party leaders.

Janardan Dwivedi had subsequently explained: “Priyanka Gandhi may not be in active politics, but she is an active member of the Congress ... working in Amethi and Rae Bareli. She has her own views on politics and holds deliberations with party workers. If she has held a meeting with party leaders on any issue, it is neither surprising nor new.”


Image: Supporters shower rose petals on Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi before Rahul filed his nomination papers from Amethi
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
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