Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Tuesday discussed various aspects of the Congress’ campaign plan with a select group of leaders, indicating her growing involvement in shaping up the strategy for the 2014 general elections.
The venue of the meeting, which took place just 10 days ahead of a crucial Congress conclave on January 17, was the 12 Tughlak Lane residence of her brother and Congress vice-president, Rahul Gandhi.
Rahul, however, was not present. A source in the Congress said there was still no hint of Priyanka contesting the general elections. “She (Priyanka) joined the meeting towards the end,” a party leader said.
But, Tuesday’s meeting indicates that Priyanka is set to play a larger role in the Congress during the Lok Sabha polls, in which her brother is leading the party’s campaign against Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) prime ministerial nominee, Narendra Modi. Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh endorsed Rahul’s credentials for the country’s top job.
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Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel, party general secretaries Ajay Maken and Janardan Dwivedi, and Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh were present at Tuesday's meeting.
While the talks focused mostly on campaign management in the Nehru-Gandhi family bastions of Rae Bareli, Amethi and Sultanpur, a source indicated discussions also took place on the strategy to tackle corruption and price rise. Besides, campaign schedules of Sonia and Rahul were also on the agenda. Bolstered by its success in the Delhi assembly elections, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party has announced its intention to field “strong candidates” against both Sonia and Rahul.
The Congress, however, tried to downplay the meeting. “Priyanka Gandhi is a member of an important political family. Maybe she has not been seen in active politics, but she is an active member of the Congress,” Dwivedi said.
“She has her own opinions on political issues and has been discussing (them) with party workers from time to time. What is the element of surprise if she has talked to senior leaders?” he added.
Another senior Congress leader said, “This is the first election where Rahul Gandhi will lead the party's campaign. She is likely to play an active role in the backroom management.”
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In the last two general elections, Priyanka had confined herself to campaigning for the Congress in the Rae Bareli-Amethi belt.
The BJP, however, said Priyanka “turning active” in politics was an internal matter of the Congress and it would not improve the party’s poll prospects.
“As far as the BJP is concerned, our leadership is very clear and our aim is to get a majority in the 2014 polls... Going by the performance of the party, I don't think there is going to be any difference in the Congress’ poll prospects," BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi told reporters.
Congress in action mode
Nevertheless, the Congress seems to be in action mode with the general elections inching closer, especially after its drubbing in the assembly polls in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
Dentsu India, an advertising and public relations company, is preparing a massive campaign around the concept of “empowering the common man”, which will focus on portraying Rahul as a young, vibrant leader who will deliver on the aspirations of the common Indian.
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Besides, Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm, has been hired by the Congress to create a buzz around Rahul on the social media.
According to a source, four to five new faces from the Hindi belt and some other states could be appointed as AICC spokespersons, while the 36-member list of television panelists from the Congress could witness a thorough rejig later this month.
Changes may take place after the January 17 meeting, a source said. Two national workshops were organised a couple of months back by the Congress to fine-tune the party’s media strategy and handpick talents from states for projecting the party better in television and print and social media.
The party is also working on a strategy to hardsell its flagship schemes such as food security, direct benefit transfer, new land bill, lokpal, RTI and the rural job scheme.
Recently, Haryana minister Randeep Singh Surjewala, Mahila Congress chief Shobha Oza, television panelist Sanjay Jha and former spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi have addressed the official briefing of the party from an All India Congress Committee podium, leading to a speculation about their appointment as the new spokespersons.
(With inputs from agencies)