Congress president Sonia Gandhi sought on Wednesday to hush the suspense over her absence from the assembly elections campaign trail, saying she has been held back by “some reasons”.
She didn’t explain the reasons but wrote an open and emotional letter to voters in Rae Bareli and Amethi parliamentary constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, the Nehru-Gandhi bastions that she and her son represent in Parliament.
“Despite my best efforts, I could not be present among you due to some reasons. Please treat this as my personal letter. It has been a matter of pride for me and my family to represent you. Whatever we are today is because of you. We share a special bond with you and this relationship is the biggest asset of my life,” she wrote.
The letter follows swelling curiosity about the 70-year-old leader’s decision to stay away from a poll campaign perhaps for the first time after she joined active politics in 1998.
Her son, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, has been shouldering the party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh and four more states, where assembly elections are being held this February and March.
Rae Bareli is her constituency and accounts for five assembly seats. It votes on Thursday, the fourth in the seven-phase polling for a new state assembly. Amethi votes in the fifth phase on February 27 and has an equal number of assembly segments.
Sonia charged the BJP-led NDA government with deliberately depriving people in Rae Bareli and Amethi of development work by blocking funds for welfare schemes.
“This government is working to benefit just a few businessmen and the poor have been forced to pay a heavy price,” she wrote.
As many as 53 constituencies will go to the polls on Thursday in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress has tied up with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.
Gandhi’s letter has no reference to the Congress-SP alliance. She appealed to the people to vote for Congress candidates.
“These elections are very important. The people of Uttar Pradesh in 2014 overwhelmingly voted for the Modi government. But in return it gave nothing to them and in fact took away their hard-earned money,” she said.
Her reference was to the NDA government’s shock recall of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes that wiped out 86% of the money in circulation, triggering a cash shortage that forced people to spend hours in queues at banks and ATM kiosks. The Congress spearheaded the opposition’s protest against the demonetisation drive.
“Please cast every vote for the Congress candidates and provide strength to me so that I can continue to work for your welfare,” Gandhi appealed.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi hinted that Gandhi’s absence from the campaign trail was an indication that times have changed and generational shifts are occurring.
“It could also be a clear sign that we are fully capable in terms of confidence that under her direction, Rahul Gandhi is leading the campaign. It is nothing more and nothing less than that,” he said.
The party vice president’s sister, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, campaigned in Rae Bareli last week. Still, party workers said they missed their chief.
“We used to request her to devote her time to campaign in the rest of country during Lok Sabha elections, but the partymen here are missing her this time. She hasn’t joined us for personal reasons. There are no political reasons,” said VK Shukla, the party’s Rae Bareli unit chief.
The Congress didn’t win a single assembly seat in Rae Bareli in the 2012 elections. This time, the party hopes to win most of the five available.