Priyanka may not be contesting but onus of Congress's fate in Rae Bareli and Amethi is on her

Since May 8, Priyanka has dominated the electioneering in the two seats

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during a campaign for Lok Sabha elections, in Amethi district, Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | PTI

When the Congress announced its candidates for Amethi and Rae Bareli Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's name did not figure for either of the two seats that are known as the Gandhi family stronghold, it came as a surprise to many. However, since May 8, Priyanka has dominated the electioneering in the two seats, her campaign marked by her emotional outreach to the people and a constant reminder of the Gandhi's family's old ties with the constituencies.

Priyanka has taken charge of the campaign in the two seats, overseeing the grassroot-level outreach while dominating the optics with her numerous public meetings that start in the morning and go on till late in the evening. She has in the past too taken up a similar role, looking after the campaign in Amethi and Rae Bareli for her brother Rahul and mother Sonia, respectively. However, what is different this time is that Amethi is no longer with the Congress, Sonia has moved to the Rajya Sabha, and Rahul is contesting from Rae Bareli. Family loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma is the candidate from Amethi. The BJP has fielded UP minister Dinesh Pratap Singh, who has influence in certain pockets in Rae Bareli, as its candidate from the seat. Sharma is up against the high-profile Smriti Irani, who had handed Rahul a shock defeat in Amethi in 2014.

The AICC General Secretary has made an emotional appeal to the people of the two seats, reminding them about the century-old ties of the Nehru-Gandhi family with the area. She visited the memorial in Munshiganj, Rae Bareli, dedicated to the farmers who had a century ago lost their lives while carrying out a non-cooperation agitation against the British rule. The visit to the memorial was meant to highlight the connection that the incident has with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's evolution as a leader. When the incident had happened in 1920-21, Nehru had rushed to Rae Bareli along with his father Motilal Nehru, and they had been arrested. Priyanka has alluded to this incident in her speeches during the campaign.

Priyanka's speeches in the two constituencies are also a reminder to the people of her grandmother Indira Gandhi, who had contested from Rae Bareli, her father Rajiv Gandhi, who got elected to the Lok Sabha from Amethi, and also the work done by Rahul and Sonia as MPs from the two seats. She has made an emotional pitch to take on the BJP's aggressive campaign that is centred on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. She has steered clear of getting into a war of words with Amethi's sitting MP, only referring to her as 'Aap Ki Sansad' while making her speeches in the constituency, and stressing that Irani's purpose of coming to contest from there was merely political and not to serve the people of the area.

In her interactions with the people of the two constituencies, she has recounted her visits with her parents when she was a child, talked about her father's assassination and the pain that her mother has endured. She has made an effort to come across as a daughter of Amethi and Rae Bareli, as someone with a strong sense of belonging to the area.

Party leaders say her campaign has effectively countered the high octane, aggressive electioneering of the BJP with a family-oriented approach, intended to convey that the Gandhi family cares for the people of the two constituencies. This was evident when late at night, after her campaigning was over, when she came to know that a person who had come to attend one of her public meetings had met with an accident, she rushed to the hospital to see him.

Her interactions with the people have showcased her as a family person who cares for the people at a personal level. The image sought to be conveyed is that of a leader who is not distant but right there amongst the people. For example, she made a surprise visit to the family of a party supporter in Rae Bareli, where she sat chatting with the women and children of the household much like a relative who has come visiting. She recalled her own childhood, spoke about her children, recounting how difficult it was for her to send her son Raihan to a boarding school and how her daughter Miraya has stressed over her studies.

In the same interaction, she was asked why she was not contesting in the Lok Sabha elections. She laughed and said someone has to take care of the electioneering, and she is the one doing that. “If both Rahul and I had contested, then he would not have been able to go and campaign in other parts of the country. Now, I am taking care of the campaign for him,” she said.

In response to queries whether she would consider contesting elections in the future, Priyanka has not ruled it out. However, even if she is not contesting this time, the onus of the party's fate in Amethi and Rae Bareli is clearly on her.

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