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India’s Congress party gets star poll campaigner

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NEW DELHI — Members of India’s opposition Congress Party have enthusiastically welcomed charismatic Priyanka Gandhi’s entry into active politics, confident she will emerge as their star campaigner for the parliamentary elections due before May.

Indian National Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday appointed his 47-year-old sister to a key post that gives her a big role in rebuilding the party in the most populous Uttar Pradesh state.

Priyanka, a mother of two and wife of businessman Robert Vadra, is popular among party workers and political observers see her as temperamentally better suited to handle India’s rough politics than Rahul.

Many liken Priyanka to her grandmother and former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

“Everyone in the Congress is thrilled and inspired by the good news,” said Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister in the Congress-led Punjab Government.

Renuka Chowdhury, another party leader, said Rahul had made a “calculated and strategic” move in making her a party general secretary.

“It’s brilliant what Rahul Gandhi has done,” she told a television channel.

Political observers say Priyanka’s plunge into politics heralds a better future for the Congress.

“It’s a masterstroke. The party waited for the right time to take this decision. If this was done before the recent assembly elections, she could have overshadowed Rahul,” said journalist Rasheed Kidwai, who has written a book about the party titled ‘24 Akbar Road: A Short History of the People Behind the Fall and Rise of the Congress.”

Priyanka is tasked with helping the party in eastern Uttar Pradesh, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi is located and the region is a stronghold of state chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

The Congress was decimated in the politically most crucial state in the 2014 elections, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies winning most of the parliamentary seats.

Rahul is making his intentions clear about taking his political rivals head-on in the next national elections.

“We will not play politics on the back foot. Neither will we play on the back foot in Gujarat nor in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

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