By James Lamont, Friday, March 2, 12:48 PM
Garlanded and windswept, the 40-year-old Gandhi reminded voters that India’s “first family” was firmly in charge of the bid to reclaim Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, for the Congress Party with a blistering attack on Kumari Mayawati, the state’s lower-caste chief minister.
The presence of her children, Rehan, 11, and Miraya, 9, as much as the freely extemporizing, green sari-clad Gandhi, recalled the days when she and her older brother Rahul accompanied their father, the slain former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, on the campaign trail in the 1980s.
Priyanka Gandhi has until now confined herself to supporting her mother with speech writing, stump speeches and public shows of tenderness. She has avoided appearing to eclipse her brother, with whom she is close after a childhood marred by the political assassinations of her grandmother, Indira, and her father. She insists she is not interested in politics and keeps much to herself in New Delhi.
Today, Rahul is spearheading the Congress Party’s campaign in the Uttar Pradesh election, taking over a front-line role from his ailing mother, Sonia, the party president, who is back in the United States for medical treatment.
If he is responsible for success when the votes are tallied Tuesday, it will also be a win for his popular sister.
Yet, many Congress Party activists refer to Priyanka, and not Rahul, as the party’s “star campaigner.” Although Rahul, the party’s general secretary, has crisscrossed the state for three years, and in the past month alone held a staggering 100 rallies, many voters say his sister — with no official role in the party — is a true vote-winner and a worthy future leader.
While Rahul represents the immediate future, a growing number of people identify the self-effacing Priyanka as a power in the years to come because of her emotional connection with India’s poor.
That view is shared by some within Rahul Gandhi’s campaign team. They see him as a polite, yet shy, man who dodges highbrow debate, needs to be heavily prepped for public appearances and hardly ever speaks in the nation’s Parliament.
Priyanka Gandhi’s strong resemblance — with short hair and aquiline features — to Indira Gandhi certainly helps. So, too, does an easy, smiling way among India’s tumultuous crowds.
A former teacher said Priyanka has intellect and charm. A candid interview in which she talked about forgiveness of her father’s Sri Lankan assassins and her Italian-born mother’s decision to enter politics is as memorable as anything her shy mother and brother have said publicly over the past four years.
“I wouldn’t have that courage to go completely against my grain because I felt it was my duty to some ideal or to my family,” she said.
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