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A political spectacle

As Priyanka Gandhi Vadra holds her first roadshow in Delhi, Patriot follows her journey on the mini-bus to assess the impact it has

A small stretch on Brahmapuri Pulia in North East Delhi, which usually remains quiet, is jampacked on the afternoon of May 8. The area swarms with officials from the Delhi Police, and people carrying flags and banners aloft. The occasion: AICC Uttar Pradesh East president Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is holding her first roadshow in Delhi after joining politics, to campaign for North East Delhi Lok Sabha Candidate — former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit.

The preparations

The roadshow is scheduled to start at 4 pm. However, party workers gathered on the street at 2.30 pm. It is brimming with people. A sea of the Congress tricolour dominates the streets, and people are holding banners with Priyanka Gandhi’s face emblazoned on them.

On the roofs of different houses, people are ready with flower petals to shower on AICC UP president’s car. A little further away, the mini-bus, on the roof of which Priyanka Gandhi would sit for the roadshow, is being checked by security personnel. Congress supporters are also posting banners with Priyanka’s face on the vehicle, but security personnel shove them back.

Even little children are holding flags, shouting ‘Priyanka Gandhi Zindabad’ and ‘Congress Zindabad’ on the streets. One such child, Ahmed, reveals that he doesn’t know what the fuss is all about. “My father asked me to hold this flag and shout these slogans. I don’t even know who Priyanka Gandhi is,” he says with a shy smile.

A Congress party worker, Abdul Hamid, has come all the way from a small town in Uttar Pradesh to support Sheila Dixit. Dressed from head to toe in Congress colours, he wears a special hat with the party emblem on it and waves a huge Congress flag that he says was custom-made by him, especially for this roadshow. “Iss baar toh humaari hi sarkaar banegi (We will form the government this time),” he says.

A few metres away, there is a group of local Congress workers from the Seelampur Vidhan Sabha constituency. They are wearing t-shirts with Priyanka, Rahul and Sonia Gandhi’s faces printed on them. They have also hired a band, which begins playing drums an hour before the rally starts to give a morale booster to ‘India’s daughter,’ Priyanka Gandhi.

But the one standout fact is that there are no locals on the streets. They are all Congress workers and supporters from different parts of the city and even the country.

The roadshow

Finally, after much frenzy, the moment arrives. Around 4.15 pm, Priyanka Gandhi arrives in her black SUV. Then she, along with Sheila Dixit, steps onto the roof of the Force Traveller mini-bus, as several frantic Congress workers shout their names.

The area around the mini-bus is cleared and it starts moving at 4.30 pm, after a 30-minute delay. Ahead of the Traveller is a police van, and behind it are four pilot cars followed by an emergency ambulance. The mini-bus is flanked by policemen carrying a rope to prevent people from joining the cavalcade. A policewoman who is a part of this, on condition of anonymity, confides, “I was reluctant to do this duty. Here I am protecting a politician, while on the other side of the road, traffic is at a standstill and there is such uncontrolled chaos.”

Indeed, the road is a sight to behold. People are running, pushing each other. Some party workers on motorcycles snake their way through the melee.

Amidst all this, the two women perched on top of the mini bus, especially Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, are the cynosure of all eyes. People line up on the divider shouting slogans like, ‘Vote padega haath pe’ and the now famous ‘Chowkidar chor hai’.

Priyanka shakes hands with some of the supporters lined up on the divider. At one point, she makes the mini-bus stop and asks the guards to pick up a little girl standing on the divider to join her on the roadshow. This gesture draws perhaps the biggest cheers of the afternoon.

As the cavalcade moves from Seelampur to Maujpur-Babarpur, the number of people increases, and the roofs and balconies of the adjacent houses fill up with people trying to catch a glimpse of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. A shout that predominates the roadshow is, “Priyanka nahi yeh aandhi hai, Doosri Indira Gandhi hai (She’s not Priyanka, but a storm. She is the second Indira Gandhi).”

A senior Congress worker, who was part of the rally, says, “She is a spitting image of our former prime minister and she will prove to be the trump card for us as we form the government this year.”

Every time she stands up and waves at the people with a smile on her face, the whole crowd erupts in a frenzy, like football fans in a stadium when the home team scores a goal.

But not all locals enjoy this tamasha. Ismail Khan, a shopkeeper in the Ghonda market in the Maujpur area, through which the rally passes, says, “Since the last few hours, my business has been in a jeopardy because people cannot come out on the streets. It is total chaos.”

The 1.6 km roadshow finally comes to a halt after 90 minutes at the Yamuna Vihar bus depot. Priyanka stands up on the Traveller one last time, gets hold of a mic and gives a 10-minute speech where she declares that she is a true-blue Delhi girl, she knows the city as she has been residing here for the past 47 years, unlike the Prime Minister who has just been here for the last five years. After attacking the PM for his policies of demonetisation and GST and for blaming the Nehru-Gandhi family for everything, Priyanka proceeds towards her next programme in South Delhi.

The impact

After the rally is over, we speak to a few locals regarding the impact it had. Rehnuma, who owns a small coconut shop in Ghonda market, says that she was overwhelmed to see Priyanka Gandhi. “She even waved at me. I will definitely vote for Congress this time,” she says.

Ali, a 60-year-old tyre shop owner, says that the roadshow was good as this was the first time that any prominent leader had come to this area. “Our current MP (Manoj Tiwari) hardly comes here and he didn’t even organise any rally or roadshow here. At least the Congress thought of coming to us,” he says.

However, an elderly gentleman, Mansoor, who lives in the Maujpur area, says that roadshows don’t create an impact, and what actually makes a difference is the amount of work that has been done. “Our state government has given us free water and electricity, while the current MP has done nothing. Even Congress, under Sheila Dixit, did very little for us when they were in power. And now she has come here to ask for votes,” he concludes.