High hopes for Gandhi scion

While she remains politically untested, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's supporters say her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, her ability to connect with the masses, and her charisma, make her a natural politician.
While she remains politically untested, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's supporters say her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, her ability to connect with the masses, and her charisma, make her a natural politician. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI • Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may have just made her political debut but she is no stranger to politics in India.

Mrs Vadra, 47, is the younger sister of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, 48, and part of the Gandhi Nehru family, a powerful political dynasty which has given India three prime ministers - her great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv.

Nehru was the first prime minister of India. Her grandmother was India's longest-serving prime minister and her father, Mr Rajiv Gandhi, was India's youngest prime minister at age 40 in 1984.

Over the past two decades, she has helped advise her brother Rahul and has campaigned in the family constituencies of Rae Bareli and Amethi for her mother, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and brother respectively.

While she remains politically untested, Mrs Vadra's supporters say her uncanny resemblance to her grandmother, her ability to connect with the masses, and her charisma, make her a natural politician.

While her entry into politics has been highly anticipated for years, she has over that time expressed uncertainty about the prospect.

Mrs Vadra and her brother were exposed to tragedy at a very young age and subsequently lived a cloistered life surrounded by heavy security due to threats made against their family.

 
 

Grandmother Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard in 1984 while she was a sitting prime minister. Mrs Vadra was only 12 at the time.

Seven years later, a suicide bomber took the life of her father, who was on the campaign trail in Tamil Nadu for the 1991 elections.

In 2008, she met Nalini Sriharan, who is serving a life sentence for conspiring in her father's assassination.

"Meeting with Ms Nalini was my way of coming to peace with the violence and loss that I have experienced," Mrs Vadra later said in a statement.

Six years after her father's assassination, her Italian mother entered politics to safeguard the Gandhi-Nehru legacy and subsequently led the party to two decisive victories.

Mr Rahul Gandhi, who is seeking to revive the fortunes of the Congress party as its president and lead it to victory in the upcoming general election, has welcomed his sister's entry into politics.

"I am very happy that my sister Priyanka will assist me in UP (Uttar Pradesh) in the Lok Sabha (Lower House) polls. She is very capable," he told reporters.

The siblings have often been compared, with observers saying Mrs Vadra is more outgoing and engaging.

She is also seen to be at greater ease addressing rallies in the Hindi language.

Mrs Vadra is now expected to take charge in February. Political analysts are predicting she would be in demand as a campaigner not just in Uttar Pradesh but across the country.

"For long within the Congress, there has been a clamour for her to get into active politics to supplement her brother.

"She often evokes memories of her grandmother and that's why I am sure as the campaign picks up, demand for her presence in Congress campaigns across the country is going to be there," said Dr Sandeep Shastri, a political analyst and pro-vice-chancellor of Jain University.

"But they have to make sure that she doesn't overshadow the brother."

Nirmala Ganapathy

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2019, with the headline 'High hopes for Gandhi scion'. Print Edition | Subscribe