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September 29, 1999
Priyanka breezes through Rae Bareli
Priyanka Vadra on Wednesday came out from Amethi to criss-cross the interiors of the neighbouring Rae Bareli constituency, much to the relief of Satish Sharma, the Congress candidate there.
Till now, Vadra had remained in Amethi where her mother and Congress president Sonia Gandhi is locked in a straight contest with Bharatiya Janata Party's Sanjay Singh.
Vadra's whirlwind campaign provided much-needed succour to Sharma who is facing a formidable rival in BJP's Arun Nehru, the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's cousin.
A large number of people thronged the route which Vadra's convoy took, for a fleeting glimpse of the charming campaigner. Her car stopped at Gauri Ganj, Babu Ganj and Jayes before it entered the Rae Bareli constituency where Fursatganj was the first halt.
Vadra accepted greetings from local party leaders. Supporters burst into slogans like ''Indira Gandhi zindabad,'' obviously hinting at the personality traits she shares with her late grandmother who had represented Rae Bareli.
Vadra did not attend any public rallies. Hers were street-corner meetings under roadside tents, but there was no dearth of listeners. Her first meeting was at the ITI main gate on the constituency's outskirts. Then came Gole Chouraha and Ganga Ganj on the fringes of the town before the fleet of cars headed towards the rural areas.
Accompanied by Sharma, his daughter Sarika and her sister-in-law Michelle, Vadra delivered brief speeches in chaste Hindi to spellbound audiences. ''Sthir sarkar aur vikas ke liye, Congress ko vote dijiye [Please vote for the Congress for stable government and development]," she said.
"Mujhe bahut jagah jana hai [I have to visit a lot of places],'' she excused herself before vanishing into the meandering dusty roads.
Vadra's presence may have provided an elixir to Sharma and his followers, but how far it will translate into votes remains to be seen. A long-time Gandhi family loyalist Sharma had lost Amethi in the last election. The seat had gone to the BJP's Sanjay Singh. Rajiv Gandhi's cousin Deepa Kaul, who is the Congress candidate from Sultanpur, had lost her deposit then.
Only a remarkable swing can turn the tide in Sharma's favour. The former petroleum minister, however, can inject some fuel into his poll machinery as Ashoke Singh has joined the Congress.
Meanwhile, Arun Nehru, who joined the BJP just before the poll after quite a few years in political hibernation, is leaving no stone unturned to exploit the Gandhi family legacy. He had contested the seat in a 1980 by-election after Indira Gandhi decided to retain Medak. He won again in 1984.
In the last election, from an electorate of about 1.2 million, the BJP had secured 36.15 per cent votes. The Samajwadi Party followed with 29.94 per cent. The Congress' share was just four per cent.
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