In her bright blue sari, smile firmly in place it’s hard to believe that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (37) is standing bang at the epicentre of a whirlwind of confusion and dust of Rae Barely. A cavalcade of some 50 journalists, both print and television, local police, her own Special Protection Group and Congress party workers are in attendance.
At every stop, a determined posse of camera crew shove mikes asking her the inevitable questions: Will she join politics? What does she think of Prabhakaran? Will her brother, Rahul Gandhi (38) win a record landslide in Amethi?
But Priyanka is already running an hour-and-a-half behind schedule. She will answer questions, she promises, but after her last meeting. Right now, she has just one agenda: to push ahead with the gruelling 14 meetings scheduled for her.
It’s day one of the Priyanka road show in Rae Barely. Campaigning in Amethi ended the previous day but there’s no rest for this star Gandhi campaigner even after addressing 110 public meetings over 1,145 km in eight days in Amethi. Although both Amethi and Rae Barely have long been Gandhi family bastions, Priyanka, looking more frail than usual, is leaving nothing to chance.
At every meeting, she apologises for being late and making people wait in the sun. At every meeting, she brings the same message of citizen empowerment. The Gandhi family is what it is because the people have chosen to repose their faith in it.
“The day we stop working for you is the day you must vote against us,” she says. “People say that Soniaji has brought about change in this area and no doubt my mother has worked very hard here. But the change has come about because of you. You took the decision to vote for change and for progress.”
Sometimes she stands like a schoolgirl, hands behind her back. Sometimes, she places one hand on her hip and speaks like a genial school-teacher encouraging her students to work hard. And everywhere, her body language betrays her comfort with Rae Barely, a constituency where she first campaigned in 1991 for Sheila Kaul.
She reaches out to playfully pinch the cheeks of babies. She laughs as she mixes up the polling dates of Rae Barely with Amethi in one speech. And the famous dimples are never far from view.
When she does get around to answering the media’s questions, it is with patience and forebearance. No, she says yet again, she doesn’t feel the need to join politics; there are other ways of serving the people. She personally harbours no hatred against Prabhakaran but the people of India can never forgive her father’s killers. And, yes, she will be very happy if her brother breaks records with a landslide victory but she is worried that the heat could deter voters from coming out in large numbers.
Then she asks if there are any more questions, signs a last autograph with a smile and a hug.