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Six prominent faces of campaign 2009

By Ashish Mehta, IANS,

New Delhi : While the likes of L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Sonia Gandhi of the Congress have led election campaigns before, there are six people who, predictably or otherwise, emerged as prominent faces of campaigning this time:

Manmohan Singh

This was the first time the soft-spoken academician-turned-bureaucrat-turned-politician led the Congress campaign. In 2004, weeks before he became prime minister, he had only addressed a few select gatherings of journalists and business leaders at chambers of commerce. Five years later, as prime minister, he criss-crossed the country and took on the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant L.K. Advani with the choicest of barbs and ripostes. And all this after a multiple bypass surgery.

Varun Gandhi

The 29-year-old used to be known as the son of late Congress leader Sanjay Gandhi and as a budding poet. But then his mother and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Maneka Gandhi vacated her Pilibhit constituency for him and things changed. Several reported hate speeches later, Varun Gandhi was making international headlines in March and overshadowing prime ministerial candidates in terms of news. He was put him behind bars and, after bail, every word he uttered was put under a microscope. He raised the bar within the BJP for making fiery speeches. Is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi worried?

Rahul Gandhi

The Congress general secretary, seen as a prime minister in waiting, led his party’s campaign to connect the Grand Old Party with young voters. With controlled aggression, he took on one and all, especially Narendra Modi, who had called him a jersey bull in the 2004 campaign. He was one of the stars of the 2009 campaign, one of the party’s main strategists, and a hit with young people.

Priyanka Gandhi

She was not a candidate, she did not address a single public rally, and she did not campaign except for her mother, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, and brother Rahul. Yet, with quick soundbytes and detailed interviews, Priyanka came to charm or irk TV viewers across the nation, depending their party affiliation. Her advice to cousin Varun Gandhi (“read the Bhagvad Gita properly”) or her saris that originally belonged to her late grandmother Indira Gandhi, her fond remarks about husband Robert Vadra (“he loves me a lot”) were a clear departure from shrill political speeches.

Narendra Modi

After his second victory in the Gujarat assembly elections in 2007, he was bound to emerge as the BJP’s lead campaigner. He did and the allies worried about their secular credentials mostly looked the other way. Arguably to counter the Rahul Gandhi-as-next-prime minister line of the Congress, some BJP leaders even floated Modi’s name as the party’s next prime ministerial candidate – while the current candidate is yet to become one. That dream, however, has kept Modi’s legendary oratory skills under check.

Sanjay Dutt

It was only last year that the Bollywood actor said he would not join politics. He jumped into the fray as a Samajwadi Party leader but his conviction in the Mumbai 1993 terror blasts meant he could not contest. That, however, did not deter him from providing comic relief to a nation much in need of it, offering ‘jhappis’ (hugs) and ‘pappis’ (kisses) and ensuing clarifications!