Priyanka Gandhi Vadra made her debut in Uttar Pradesh's political arena as Congress general secretary with a grand road show on Monday, raising hopes of a turnaround in the party's fortunes, as her brother and party president Rahul Gandhi asserted that it was the time to uproot the BJP and form the government in the state.
Virtually launching the party's Lok Sabha poll campaign, Priyanka Gandhi, accompanied by Rahul Gandhi and Jyotiraditya Scindia, in-charge of the state's western region, was the cynosure of many eyes with thousands of onlookers, including enthusiastic party workers jostling to get a glimpse and capture the image of the 47-year-old beaming leader in their phones.
Rose petals were showered and marigold garlands tossed towards the brother-sister duo as their cavalcade embarked on a roughly 25-km-long road show, from the airport to the party headquarters as the duo exchanged brief pleasantries with some members of the crowd.
Significantly, Priyanka Gandhi did not address the crowd during the road show or at the Congress office and it was Rahul Gandhi, who attacked the Modi government and pitched a roadmap for the party going forward—seen by many commentators as a subtle political message that he will be calling the shots despite Priyanka Gandhi's popularity in the state.
Asserting that the party will "play on front foot", Rahul Gandhi said,"till a Congress ideology government is installed here [UP], we will not rest and ensure justice for farmers, the youth and the poor."
"Their [Priyanka and Scindia] aim is definitely the Lok Sabha elections, but also to bring a Cognress government here," he said, adding "the Congress began its journey from Uttar Pradesh and it cannot remain weak in the state...Congress has to improve performance in UP in the LS polls and from government in the next assembly elections."
Giving a sense what her entry means to the party workers in UP where the party has been struggling electorally for years, posters showed Priyanka in Durga Mata (Hindu Goddess) avatar riding a lion.
"Maa Durga ka roop behen Priyankaji (Sister Priyankaji is Maa Durga's incarnation)", said one poster, while some others highlighted her resemblance to Indira Gandhi, her grandmother.
Priyanka Gandhi's entry into active politics has been at a time when the party is not only witnessing one of the most difficult times electorally but has also been sidelined by prospective allies for the mahagatbandhan with the Samajwadi Party and BSP totally ignoring it in while forming their alliance.
"An alliance is also in the contest here and I have clearly said that I respect Mayawatiji and Akhilesh Yadavji...but Congress will fight with all its might for its ideology to change Uttar Pradesh," Rahul Gandhi said.
Asking crowd to repeat his "chowkidar chor hai" [guard is the thief] barb against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in connection with the Rafale jet deal, Rahul Gandhi alleged that the prime minister has "stolen" money from Uttar Pradesh and other states to benefit industrialist Anil Ambani.
The government and Ambani's Reliance Group have denied the allegations levelled against them by Congress and other opposition parties.
At a number of places, the leaders atop the bus had to dodge overhead electric wires in the busy and congested commercial areas. They also had to change to an open jeep near the Novelty Cinema hall here.
At the end of the four-and-a-half hour roadshow, Rahul Gandhi addressed enthusiastic party workers at the state Congress office. Priyanka Gandhi also interacted with the state unit leaders at the party office.
The Congress party had fared miserably during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections by winning just two of 80 seats in the state.
The eastern UP, Priyanka Gandhi's area of responsibility has Modi's constituency Varanasi. The region is also seen as a stronghold of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
Speaking at the venue of TDP leader and Andhara Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu's fast in New Delhi, senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge described Priyanka Gandhi's entry into active politics as "better late than never", and said it will enthuse the party cadre.
As Priyanka Gandhi's road show was on, her husband Robert Vadra sent her his best wishes.
"My Best wishes to you P, on your new journey of working in Uttar Pradesh and serving the people of India. You have been my best friend, a perfect wife, and the best mother to our children. There is a very vindictive and vicious political atmosphere... But I know, it's her duty to serve the people and now we hand her to the people of India. Please keep her safe," he said.
Priyanka Gandhi, who married Vadra in 1997, last week came out in strong support of her husband, dropping him off at the Enforcement Directorate office for his first day of questioning in connection with a money laundering probe.
"He is my husband, he is my family...I support my family," she had said.
On the day of her political debut in UP, Priyanka Gandhi also joined Twitter and garnered a massive response with tens of thousands following her on the social media platform within hours.
A day before her maiden visit to Uttar Pradesh as Congress general secretary, Priyanka Gandhi said that together with the people of the state she hopes to start a "new kind of politics" in which everyone will be a stakeholder.
The two general secretaries will interact with party workers at the state Congress office in Lucknow on February 12, 13 and 14.