Priyanka Vadra has been in the news lately, and why not? The Allahabad unit of the Congress party wants her to contest from Phulpur constituency, which her great grandfather Pandit Nehru represented. They even put up a poster that endorsed this view: “Maiya ab rehti beemar, Bhaiya par badh gaya bhaar, Priyanka Phulpur se bano ummeedwar, party ka karo prachaar, Congress ki sarkaar banao teesri baar (Mother is often unwell now, brother (Rahul Gandhi) has too much to handle, Priyanka become the candidate from Phulpur and campaign, help Congress make its government for the third time).
The Allahabad unit of the Congress has done its analysis broadly right. Rahul has been around in politics for a long time now, and as a leaked US embassy cable (cable 82135; October 17, 2006) famously summed it up that the party’s fortunes were inextricably tied with “the young man’s presumed strengths and unexplored weaknesses”. Sonia Gandhi confidant Rashid Alvi told a US diplomat that Sonia was determined to foist Rahul “despite his lack of public appeal and political skills”. One Congressman even told the Americans that Rahul was so “out of touch” that he had “no future, no talent for politics, and will never be PM, as he had done nothing for the past three years”. But that was almost exactly seven years ago. Since then Sonia’s medical condition has been the subject of avid speculation. The pressure has mounted for her to settle the succession, but Rahul has not made it any easier for her. Since then, Rahul had made so many more missteps—that the party insiders were telling sundry US embassy officials that they were waiting for Priyanka Vadra to enter politics (cable 105346; sent on April 23, 2007).
The sense of frustration of waiting for Rahul to do something had gone out of hand long ago. All the heir apparent was doing was riding motorcycles, suburban trains. Now he is showing some interest in rocket science with his talk of escape velocity and all that. Surely we can’t blame the Allahabad Congress unit for expressing their feelings. Let’s face it: more people will be willing to give Priyanka the benefit of doubt than they would to Rahul. We find her largely believable except when she claims her brother is far more politically astute than she is, that his understanding of social and economic issues are way above hers, that he has a strategic mind, and that he has a brilliant mind. But can he make cupcakes?
Most importantly, Priyanka doesn’t have a beard like Rahul sometimes sports or like Narendra Modi, for instance. She shrewdly keeps reminding us of her grandmother by wearing her saris sometimes, hopefully for a political purpose. She certainly can speak better in public, both in Hindi and in English, than her brother and her mother put together. Many will even be prepared to overlook the fact that she is married to Robert Vadra who, we have heard it rumoured, has enviable land development interests in Haryana; but hasn’t the Haryana CM himself said Vadra is only a “small farmer”? There might be some political turbulence stemming from the fact that Robert has already made it clear that he wants to contest elections, after Rahul has had his chance. How long can Robert wait?
Priyanka may not be involved in the political process, but many wish she were.