Even off the record, Congress leaders are reluctant to concede that party president Sonia Gandhis Italian birth could snowball into an election issue. And when they do, its with a nervous glance over the shoulder.
However, in tacit acknowledgement that the bjps swadeshi versus videshi campaign just might click, a section of party leaders have urged Sonia to field one or both her children in the 99 Lok Sabha polls. This, they feel, may take the edge off the bjp attack.
Indeed, while some party leaders have been falling over themselves to offer Sonia "safe" seatsJodhpur, Medak, Cuddapah, Sataraothers would prefer it if she did not contest, on the plea that she will have to campaign all over India and cannot be expected to devote time to a single constituency. If there must be a Gandhi in the electoral arena, popular preference is for Priyanka.
Plans are afoot to persuade Priyanka to contest from Amethi, Sultanpur or Rae Bareilly. "It will have to be from somewhere in UP to create any impact," says a Congress MP. None of these are "safe" seats. Although Amethi has been a pocket borough of the Gandhis, family retainer Satish Sharma was trounced after he earned the ire of Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav.
If Sonia chooses to contest herself, Congress leaders would still like Rahul and Priyanka to campaign for the party, particularly in UP. After revision of electoral rolls, a major chunk of the electorate will fall in the 18 to 35 age group and it is this section that the Congress hopes to target through Priyanka.
Even before an official decision has been taken, partymen are putting in demands for appearances by Priyanka at public meetings. They feel shes politically savvy, has tremendous charisma and would be the partys best crowd-puller. Besides being undisputably Indian.