A few hours in Priyanka territory

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Indira Gandhi at a Glance
Rajiv Gandhi
Sonia Gandhi
Election in Oct.1999 - Amethi Constituency
A few hours in Priyanka territory
Priyanka, Rahul wrap up Amethi visit
Rani of Amethi Stakes Claim
Sonia turns the tide in Amethi

At 27, she has emerged as a star campaigner in her own right. Villagers wait for "Bitiya Priyanka" on roadsides or at makeshift meeting venues.

The rapport is instant as she stops her chocolate-coloured Tata Safari in front of a group of old and young women, children and even old men. "Namaste", she greets them and beams a smile, like her father Rajiv Gandhi. "Aap log kaise hain?" she asks in a natural tone.

"Hum theek hain, bitiya. Bas sab taklifon mein thay. Ab theek ho jayega," an old lady wearing a tattered sari responds.

"Ab main aap ke saath hoon," Priyanka tells them reassuringly and moves on to the meeting places. There is a scramble for small-sized posters carrying photographs of Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia. A placard above proclaims: "Congress ka saath, garib ke saath"(Congress is with the poor).

Priyanka on the campaign trail in Amethi.

The village is in the Gauriganj Assembly segment of Amethi. I am sitting on the back seat of Priyanka's vehicle, watching the proceedings from close range. Nothing has been pre-arranged. I manage to locate the Priyanka caravan with the help of Jagdish Piyush, a Congress worker, during my whistle-stop tour of the Rae Bareli-Amethi belt in Uttar Pradesh early this week.

I introduce myself and move along with her in a couple of villages. After checking my credentials the ever agile SPG men accept my presence ungrudgingly. The first major halt this afternoon is at Babupur village (Jamon block) in the Gauriganj Assembly segment. It is 4.30 p.m. She is accompanied by her sister-in-law Mitchelle Vadra. First of all, she apologises to the people for being late.

I am reproducing below the gist of her flawless Hindi speeches to give the readers an idea of how Priyanka communicates her feelings and thoughts which, looking at the response, go straight to the people's heart.

The next half is at Hargaon village. Time 5.30 p.m.

Here, again, she apologises for being late and explains:"This is because I met villagers waiting for me en route. At the end of her speech, Priyanka mingles with the people, shaking hands, doing namaste and even accepting bits of paper containing their grievances. SPG men have quite a tough time. But they are understanding and cooperative, not interrupting her natural interaction with the villagers belonging to the local community. I can see poverty writ large on the faces of most of them.

I parted company and was soon Lucknow-bound. A few memories flashed back of the period I had followed Rajiv Gandhi as a beginner in politics in seven or eight villages of Amethi in 1980. Here are some observations:

First, Rajiv spoke like a parrot, repeating the speech word by word, in village after village.

Priyanka, in sharp contrast, has spontaneity about everything. At the same time, she varies her idiom and thoughts. Second, like her father, Priyanka too has a charming disposition. There is a natural Rajiv touch in the way she smiles and communicates with the people.

Third, unlike her parents, she speaks fluent Hindi. Fourth, she carries herself with grace and dignity without being flashy.

Fifth, she talks straight, does not attack the opponents or parties. She talks about the people, their problems and development, without any malice or rancour. Perhaps, in the process, she is able to rekindle a new hope among the voters in Amethi.

If Amethi is any indicator, then more than Sonia, Priyanka is likely to set the pace for Congress politics. She has already cast a spell on the people of Amethi. The BJP candidate, Mr Sanjay Singh (a nephew of former Prime Minister V.P. Singh), may not admit it. But the writing on Amethi walls is clear. Only a miracle or mass rigging can reverse the results.


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