THE Morhabadi maidan in Ranchi, Bihar's dusty rust-belt town, once used to be a sprawling, manicured, verdant turf where polo games whipped up heady excitement among the natives. Today, this green carpet has turned into an unkempt patch of brown earth and dry grass, and the thrill is gone. Not even noisy political jamborees turn on the people.
But when Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi flew into Ranchi to address a rally, some 20,000 people turned up on a grey, squally day. What happened? Rally-goer Satish Sahay, a matriculate from Hazaribagh, echoes the mass sentiment: "We've all come to see Priyanka. She looks good, doesn't she?"
Clearly, 26-year-old Priyanka could turn out to be the Congress's crowd-puller of the season. During the 28-minute Morhabadi show, Sonia's vapid drone in Hindi lasted all of eight minutes and evoked little applause, but Priyanka's frenetic hand-waving added up to a cool six minutes and sent the crowd into raptures. Working the crowd like a cheerleader, she played to the gallery joyously, smiling, turning around and waving, while gleeful Congressmen captured the moment on their pocket cameras.
But only time will tell whether the mother-and-daughter rallies will turn out to be a shot in the arm for a beleaguered Congress, a personal triumph for Sonia, a dress-rehearsal for Priyanka or just simply whistlestop gigs on a Return of the Dynasty tour churning out tired remakes of old hits.