“I love the jungle, I always have. There is an unpredictability about it that is just beautiful. You never know where and when you will encounter the life you ought to live — untamed and feral. Everything is defined only by its own existence. Animals are what they are — unabashedly themselves.”

— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra: Ranthambhore: The Tiger’s Realm

In the coffee table book she co-authored with friends Anjali and Jaisal Singh, she was obviously not referring to the jungle of Indian politics which she seems to be loving equally at the moment.

The 52-year old Priyanka did disappoint her supporters in Rae Bareli when she decided not to contest instead of her mother and 4-time sitting Rae Bareli MP Sonia Gandhi. Taking charge of the campaign of her brother Rahul Gandhi in Rae Bareli and close family associate Kishori Lal Sharma in neighbouring Amethi, she has proved once again to be the ‘Congress ka danka’ (Danka is a cylindrical musical instrument used for announcing arrival of royalty in court).

Conducting at least 10 roadside meetings across Amethi and Rae Bareli every day, Priyanka holds late night orientation sessions with booth-level cadre and other office bearers of the INDIA alliance, while zipping out to address the prescheduled rallies at Maharashtra. The Congress’ star campaigner and key strategist is clearly the only person in the Congress political fraternity who has been able to skilfully counter Modi-speak most consistently with clarity, connectivity and great elan.

During an election rally in Jharkhand Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed: “With your blessings there is no allegation of corruption against me”. Taking up cudgels against such a claim Priyanka said “Let me charge you of corruption. Modi ji you had introduced a massive corruption scheme in the form of electoral bonds. Until the Supreme Court mandated transparency you did not disclose donations made through the electoral bonds. Modi ji intended to conceal the identity of donors but when left with no choice had to disclose the list of donors which unveiled the biggest corruption racket”, she told the cheering crowd.

Rebutting PM Modi’s repeatedly referring to Rahul Gandhi as shehzada (Prince)) Priyanka held: “He calls my brother shehzada. I want to tell him that this shehzada walked 4000 kilometers on foot from Kanyakumari to Kashmir to listen to your problems. He met my sisters, brothers, farmers, laborers, and lovingly spoke to them enquiring about their problems and trying to know how to address it. On the other side is your Shehanshah (emperor) Narendra Modi ji who lives in castles, not a speck of dirt on his clothes, not a strand of hair out of place – how will he ever understand the problems of your wages, farming distress. He is completely cut off from you and the problems of people like you.”

Priyanka Gandhi has single-handedly given the Modi brigade back in the language that the common man understands and connects with without for once resorting to spiteful language.

Congressmen who have been observing her for many years now say that she is pure dadihaali (taking to her father’s side of the family) compared to brother Rahul who they describe as a ‘naanihali’ or inheriting the qualities of mother Sonia Gandhi’s family.

Like her dadi (grandmother) Indira Gandhi, Priyanka emerges strongest when pushed to the wall. She is most protective towards her family and has gone on record saying that she would go to “any extent” to help out brother Rahul.

Old timers recall an equally combative Priyanka in 1999 campaigning for family friend and loyalist Satish Sharma to defeat Rajiv Gandhi’s cousin turned political foe Arun Nehru.

Addressing a rally, a then 27-year old Priyanka had fiercely attacked Nehru:

“Mujhe aap se ek shikayat hai. Mere pita ke mantri mandal mein rehte hue jisne gaddari ki, bhai ki peeth mein chhura mara — jawab dijiye — aise aadmi ko aapne yahan ghusne kaise diya? Unki yahan aane ki himmat kaise hui

(I have a complaint against you. A man who committed treachery while remaining in my father’s ministry, who stabbed a brother in the back — answer me — how did you let such a man in here? How did he dare come here)?” she had asked the voters to explain.

The speech sealed Arun Nehru’s fate forever. As curtains come down on campaigning in the twin constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli it remains to be seen what kind of fate awaits union minister Smriti Irani in Amethi and BJP candidate Dinesh Pratap Singh in Rae Bareli.

(The writer is an independent journalist)