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The thing about the Gandhi dynasty is that people always seem to believe that some member of it or the other is arriving, messiah-like. While the nation waits for the coming of age of Rahul Gandhi with Rae Bareli, in the constituency itself, it’s Priyanka they wait for. “She is young, she is already looking into issues related to our constituency, and she knows all our leaders, workers and people here. She is a daughter of the district. And more than all this, she doesn’t have any responsibility in the party at the national level. So why not Priyanka then?” a local Congress leader from Rae Bareli, now represented by Sonia Gandhi in Parliament, asks.
Workers and functionaries in the local Congress unit believe that in the next election, Priyanka—not Sonia—will be the MP from Rae Bareli, once represented by Feroze Gandhi, then Indira Gandhi. In the 2012 assembly polls, the Congress lost all five seats making up the Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency. Four went to the Samajwadi Party.
Political discussions have started, in drawing rooms and tea shops, that Priyanka will be the next face-saver for the dynasty in its pocketborough. For Congress loyalists, there is the belief that voting in a state and national poll will be very different. People also say the fact that Sonia is busy with national-level politics possibly did not allow her to give time to her seat.
The mood in the Congress unit in Rae Bareli and in the area is in favour of Priyanka standing for MP in the 2014 elections.
They believe there are clear signals that the constituency has been handed to Priyanka to take care of: she has been conducting meetings with local party leaders in Delhi and recently visited Rae Bareli with her mother. In the past few visits, when people of the constituency complained about their problems and the negligence of local party functionaries, Priyanka said, “Ab main aa gayi hoon. Mein aap logon ki samasyaen sunoongi aur is zile ke vikas ka kaam hoga. (Now I am here. I will listen to all your problems and ensure there is development in the district.)”
Many Congress workers and leaders are happy with this. O.P. Srivastava, a PCC member and senior Congress leader from Rae Bareli, says, “There’s a spark in all our workers since she took over as in-charge of affairs here. Her presence has worked as a catalyst for the party here. It would be great if she is seen as an option, though the stature of Sonia Gandhi is far ahead of all, including her family members.”
Priyanka has handled election campaigns for her mother and brother in past elections. Earlier this year, she focused on the seat but the Congress fared miserably. Akhilesh Singh is the MLA who has won the town seat several times and in 2012 stood on the symbol of the Peace Party, which he has quit. He says, “The Gandhi family’s ground is eroding. They have forgotten the history of Rae Bareli: this is where Raj Narain defeated Indira Gandhi. The glamour of the Gandhis is fading and the people of Rae Bareli will repeat 1977 (when Indira was defeated). Sonia or Priyanka, this time it will be an anti-Gandhi vote.”
Yet the loyalists are still very much there. Dinesh Singh, an MLC and local Congress leader, is firm in his belief that the Gandhis will prevail. “There’s nothing better than Soniaji and only she can break her own record. We want her to contest again from the area, but considering the responsibilities she has, we would be happy if Priyankaji contested the next election.” Priyanka’s office, predictably, does not respond to the query. But in the seat long nurtured by her family, they are certain she is coming. To her advantage, many locals brush off the charges against her husband Robert Vadra. Also, the Samajwadi Party hasn’t so far fielded anyone here, though it has released two lists of candidates for the 2014 elections.