LUCKNOW, Uttar Pradesh -- Following months of speculation over her role in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra today addressed her first election rally in Rae Bareli, which is also the parliamentary seat of her mother Sonia Gandhi and before that her grandmother, Indira Gandhi.
Packing her first punch, Vadra asked, "Does U.P. need an adopted son," referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hails from Gujarat but swept UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, winning the parliamentary seat from Varanasi.
Vadra, who spearheaded the negotiations to forge the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance with Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, shared the stage with her brother and Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi. The alliance however is not without its troubles and Rae Bareli has been a source of aggressive haggling over candidates between the two parties. The district with five Assembly constituencies will vote on 23 February.
On Friday, both Vadra and Gandhi ripped into Modi and the polices of the Centre, but they steered clear of attacking Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, the other major player in the UP polls.
Picking up on Modi's earlier remarks that he was the adopted son of UP, Vadra sought to cast him as an outsider. "Lord Krishna was born in UP and made Gujarat his 'karam bhoomi'. I was born in Gujarat and UP has adopted me...," Modi said at a rally in Hardoi on Thursday.
In a brief yet vehement speech, Vadra countered, "The prime minister has said that 'Varanasi adopted me'. It came to my mind, does UP need to adopt someone from outside. Are there no young men in UP who can take the state forward? There are two young men, Rahul ji and Akhilesh ji, who are in front of you."
"Every young man in the state can become a leader and work for the development of UP," she continued, urging the crowd to ignore those "who have lied to you and broken their promises" and to vote for the alliance.
In the long-drawn campaign for India's most populous and electorally significant state, Vadra has mostly worked in the background despite speculation over her assuming a larger role in public. She was instrumental in clinching the alliance with the SP. So far, however, she continues to played a limited role, with her campaigning program confined to the Gandhi family strongholds of Rae Bareli and Amethi.
The Congress in fact is facing a rather embarrassing situation in Rae Bareli and Amethi, where it is contesting all 10 seats, but sitting SP lawmakers, who refused to withdraw their candidatures, are still standing from a few of the same spots. This odd scenario is the reason widely attributed to Vadra's delay in campaigning which was scheduled to kick off on 14 February.
Earlier this week, BJP leader and Union Minister Smriti Irani goaded Vadra by saying that her absence from Amethi was actually fear of facing the people. Irani, who had stood against Gandhi in his stronghold and given him cause for worry in the Lok Sabha polls, said, "Priyanka wants to avoid people's questions."
Earlier in the rally on Friday, Vadra looked on as Gandhi criticized Modi over letting down farmers by not waiving of their loans and failing to keep the promises he made after winning from Varanasi. "The note ban has hurt small businessmen, shopkeepers and farmers," he said.
Mocking Modi, Gandhi said, "You know what Modi said when I asked him about waiving off farmer loans?" Then, he gave a long pause and said, "Nothing."
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