Friday, May 2, 2014

"Are you Priyanka?"

Priyanka Robert Vadra is the first beti (and sister of local MP, the first beta) and the voters dont even know who she is and what she looks like. The ultimate low-information voter, or is it? If a VIP constituency lacks power after 65 years of independence it will not come as a surprise that voters remain indifferent to VIP appeal.

We are ambivalent about the overall outcome in this general elections but not so about specific cases. It is our fervent wish that in the coming ballot in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi (INC) loses from Amethi, and so does Sonia Gandhi (INC- Rae Bareilly), Varun Gandhi (BJP- Sultanpur) and Narendra Modi (BJP- Varanasi). This is the only time the voters can deliver a bloody nose and it is high time they do so in a very powerful and symbolic manner.
Outside the Ramlila grounds in Nasirabad, the weekly vegetable market is on. Clad in sneakers, salwar-kurta and a BJP cap, Anu Chaudhary, the state chief of BJP's women's unit in Haryana, distributes campaign material and pamphlets to vegetable vendors. "You have a right to development. If Amethi is a VIP constituency, question the vote-seekers on how your lives have improved," she says. People hear her out. Then someone asks, "Are you Priyanka?"
Hours later with a generator powering the mike, in the same grounds, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra talks about the Gandhis bringing electricity to Amethi. The mike fails several times and people complain. "In this area, electricity supply is nearly non-existent. She's talking about educational institutions but we do not have an inter-college," Mohd Iqbal, a fruit vendor said. Priyanka acknowledges that there are complaints but says it was the opposition that foiled attempts to bring power.

In Gauriganj, the headquarters of Amethi district, senior administrative officials are discussing the latest entrant into Amethi's political fray, BJP's Smriti Irani. At least a few times, she is referred to as Tulsi, TV's most popular bahu, a role Irani played about eight years ago before she entered politics.

"Her arrival created quite a stir in the initial days. As a celebrity, she drew large crowds," says one of them. Traveling more than 200km every day, Irani has stationed herself in Amethi since early April and plans to stay till May 7, polling day.

With the help of the Sangh Parivar, Irani has begun sharing space with Priyanka in drawing room discussions over politics. Nudging the real contestant - Rahul Gandhi - out of the picture, people say Amethi's 2014 electoral battle is all about the real beti versus the reel bahu.

The beti invokes all that the first family has done for the people of Amethi in the many decades it has ruled; the bahu harps on everything else they could have done, but didn't. Both are using more than just celebrity-hood and charm to strengthen their election campaigns. In Irani's case, she has craftily kept the old Jan Sangh hands close, knowing they can help her build her base. In a more personal gesture, Irani applies tilak to every supporter who goes out campaigning for her. Anu Chaudhary, the Haryana unit volunteer, said, "Our focus is on making personal contact with people. We're touching villages the Gandhis have not visited even once in all these years."

As Irani goes on a mission to bring down a 40-year dynastic rule, Priyanka is hard at work trying to fortify it. Spending 15 hours daily campaigning, she's been on door-to-door visits, addressed corner meetings and made unscheduled halts at villages.


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