The Congress Party yesterday unleashed its newest star with thousands turning out to see Priyanka Gandhi Vadra speak at her first rally as the country gears up for a general election.
Crowds showered rose petals on the sister of party president Rahul Gandhi as she took an open bus tour through Lucknow, capital of the key northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The opposition Congress is counting on the 47-year-old daughter of assassinated premier Rajiv Gandhi to boost its campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is expected to call an election in April.
Priyanka and elder brother Rahul waved at cheering supporters who chanted their names while dancing to drums.
Many wore pink t-shirts emblazoned with her picture.
At a rally she called for supporters to join a campaign to build “a new future” for India and a “new kind of politics where everyone is a stakeholder”.
Priyanka had for years resisted calls to enter the political fray. This ended last month when she accepted the key post of Congress general secretary.
She will also be its face in Uttar Pradesh, the state that sends the highest number of lawmakers to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, and is currently dominated by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
But a string of BJP defeats in state elections late last year and rising discontent over a weak farm economy and lacklustre jobs growth have weakened Modi’s position, which an increasingly aggressive Congress is looking to capitalize on.
Priyanka - she is usually referred to by just her first name - bears a striking resemblance to her grandmother, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, and is known for her gifts as a speaker able to connect with voters.
Congress hopes that the eyeballs she’s able to generate will turn into votes.
“It’s like Indira Gandhi has come back,” said Fuzail Ahmed Khan, 45, a Congress supporter.
“The state’s farmers want Rahul Gandhi to be prime minister, Priyanka to be chief minister.”
Indira Gandhi, India’s only woman prime minister known as the “Iron Lady”, was criticised for suspending civil liberties for nearly two years starting in 1975.
Posters of Priyanka lined the streets of Lucknow, and hundreds of Congress supporters, accompanied by drummers, chanted her name after she emerged from the airport with her brother.
Congress leaders hope Priyanka’s entry into politics will improve its chances across Uttar Pradesh, a vast agrarian state of 220mn people that the BJP nearly swept in the last general election in 2014, winning 73 of the 80 seats there.
Although Priyanka has helped manage elections for her brother and her mother, former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, she has never held an official party post until now. “I hope that we can together start a new kind of politics,” she said in an audio message shared by Congress.
Since the announcement of Priyanka’s entry into politics, India’s financial crime-fighting agency Enforcement Directorate has questioned her husband, Robert Vadra, for several hours in a case relating to alleged ownership of £1.9mn ($2.45 mn) of undisclosed assets abroad.
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