THE DUST rises like a veil, suddenly obscuring everything outside a one-foot radius. When the cloud finally clears, you see the long retinue of cars stretching far into the distance. One car, in particular, stands out. A black SUV with opaque windows and a glinting silver BMW logo. Atop its roof, sits a circle of orange marigold — like a crown for the princess within.
Soon, the motorcade reaches Tikri — a hamlet deep inside Uttar Pradesh’s grasslands. The SUV’s door opens and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (37) steps out. The safari-suit-clad SPG guards keep away over-zealous TV reporters and excited villagers. Chaos breaks out. But Priyanka, cutting a striking figure even in a plain red cotton saree, is unfazed. She flashes her trademark smile — and those famous dimples — waves, and strides towards the masses.
“I don’t like asking for votes. I’ve come to ask you for your love,” she says, in chaste Hindi. And the crowd cheers madly. “Whenever I come here, I feel like I’m working for my father. You’ve seen me grow up and our relationship goes much beyond politics,” she continues. A mute man dances wildly and shouts unintelligibly in appreciation. You know, then, that every time she campaigns here, her brother and mother will win.
This is Priyanka’s third solo campaign in Amethi; she started when she was 27. Before that, she used to accompany her father. She plays the family card — frequently referring to her father — and is surprisingly accessible to voters.
The charisma is undeniable. But her biggest weapon is her ability to make everyone - be it a wizened old villager or a young journalist — feel important. I experience this first hand at the next village, when a particularly enthusiastic woman insists on shouting slogans even as Priyanka is trying to speak. She tries to get her to stop a few times, and then finally catches my eye, laughs and mouths: “She just won’t give up.” She hasn’t met me before today, I think. And yet, she made me feel like we were best friends.
At the next stop, she manages to give TV reporters the slip and quietly stops at a local temple at Sangrampur village. “I always visit this temple every time I come here,” she says. Is it lucky for her, then? “I think you should pay your requests wherever you go,” she replies.
By 6 pm, she’s stopped at 14 villages. The media chasing her is clearly exhausted. But Priyanka is unstoppable.
Next, Priyanka will head back to her guest house where the Congress workers of the district will gather. There, she’ll assign them duties for polling day and will exhort them to get more votes from each of their areas. And then perhaps she will sleep.
Only to do it all over again tomorrow.