Priyanka Gandhi Vadra: Primed to be the inheritor of Indira’s legacy

A Congress leader points out that Priyanka has always been a reluctant politician.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra

Flush with a renewed sense of panache post-Lok Sabha election results, she is being described as a star campaigner, a backroom strategist, troubleshooter, and a talisman for the Congress. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is perceived as the real ‘crisis manager’ for her elder brother Rahul Gandhi after he relinquished the Wayanad seat to retain Rae Bareli — one of the most difficult choices of his life. Priyanka will now contest the Wayanad bye-election after resisting to take the poll plunge since she entered active politics in 2019. Though it was anticipated that she would contest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi after taking over as the party’s general secretary in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh in 2019, she opted out of the fray.

After accepting party chief Mallikarjun Kharge’s proposal that she should fight Wayanad bypolls, Priyanka said she was simply “lending her hand” to her brother.

As she steered the Congress campaign in Uttar Pradesh and other states in the recent parliamentary elections, speculation was intense within and outside Congress that Priyanka would be fielded from Rae Bareli, a stronghold of the Nehru-Gandhi family. However, she declined to contest from Rae Bareli citing organisational responsibilities.

Her pivotal role in the campaign helped the party in retaining Rae Bareli from where her brother contested, and Amethi, where the family’s aide Kishori Lal Sharma took on Union minister Smriti Irani.

A Congress leader points out that Priyanka has always been a reluctant politician. She didn’t show interest in any other role than strengthening the organisation. Some feel that though her electoral entry was long anticipated, she has avoided eclipsing her brother with whom she shares a close bond.

“I have said it a thousand times, I am not interested in joining politics,” said Priyanka Gandhi during a BBC interview in 1999.

In 2009, she again told her interviewer: “Politics does not draw me because I’ve been through a whole introspective process. I was drawn to it earlier, as I thought it is what I wanted to do because it came naturally to me and for various other reasons.”

Her noncommittal attitude let many leaders down as they considered Priyanka as a mirror image of her grandmother, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, the inheritor of her crowd-pulling oratorical prowess. She also added a distinct and powerful woman perspective to her party’s established stance, enabling her to strike a chord with people instantly.

It has been documented that Indira Gandhi shared with her political adviser, Makhan Lal Fotedar, that he should ensure after her death that Priyanka enter politics and take the legacy forward. However, when Fotedar conveyed it to Rajiv Gandhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv told him, “To mummy aise kehti thi (Yes, she said so).”

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
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Priyanka, 52, has always stood by her brother in strengthening his political career, without ever dropping a hint of upstaging him. While her future role is still being debated, party leaders say that the story only gets more interesting from here on as Congress plans its moves.

In 1999, a young Priyanka took on her uncle, Arun Nehru, a BJP candidate who contested against Congress’ Satish Sharma in Rae Bareli. In a rally, she said, “I have a complaint. A man who backstabbed my father is contesting here.” That made sure Nehru lost the battle, recalls a party leader.

Priyanka has also displayed immense courage when she was faced with political and personal challenges, said another leader. In 1984, when Priyanka was 12 years old, Indira was assassinated. Seven years later, her father Rajiv Gandhi was killed in a suicide bombing in Tamil Nadu.

“Years of vipasana have made her a calm and focused person. She doesn’t get flustered by challenges,” said the leader. Priyanka possesses a degree in Psychology and Master’s in Buddhist Studies.

She displayed compassion when she met Nalini Murugan, who was serving the life sentence in Rajiv’s assassination. “Meeting Nalini was my way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced,” Priyanka said later.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra
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The New Indian Express