As thrones pass down from generation to generation in dynastic families, bad blood arises between family members over a power struggle. This usually doesn’t happen in a democracy. However, India’s first family, following the principles of a family business or better described as a modern-day monarchy, is quite susceptible to these evils. First, it happened with Maneka Gandhi and now it seems Priyanka Gandhi Vadra will be the latest prey.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the example of the rare Gandhi who has been isolated from active politics. While she has been the confidant and advisor of Sonia Gandhi, her mother and Rahul Gandhi, her brother, she acted as a ‘star campaigner’ in both 2004 and 2009 general elections; though she confined herself to playing the role of election manager in Raebareli and Amethi constituencies, the traditional family bastions. Married to a businessman Robert Varda who is currently facing money laundering charges, she has been devoting her time on her house and on her children. When asked on why she is staying away from politics, Priyanka replied, “I have small children and I need to spend time with them, which is my priority.” Very similar to what Indira Gandhi said while turning down requests from the party’s Uttar Pradesh unit to contest the 1952 general elections, stating that her children Rajiv and Sanjay were her priority.
Been the doting mother of 2 in the past, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra suddenly finds herself with bountiful time. Now her children have reached an age where one of them has gone to university and the other is about to go to university, Priyanka has the time to indulge into her family business.
With Rahul Gandhi’s leadership substandard at best, Congress has reached an all time low. Right when it seemed there was a fair chance this generation of the Nehru-Gandhi clan would not produce a prime minister, Priyanka Gandhi has entered the fray. Apparently, desperate times call for desperate measures.
She was appointed as the Congress Genral Secretary of East UP, the most politically crucial region of the country in which Congress had performed horrendously in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, retaining just the two family bastions. After her appointment, speculations arose over her active polling which Priyanka categorically rebuffed. She told party workers that she would not be contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and would instead focus on the organisation of Congress and win the 2022 polls in Uttar Pradesh. However, she changed her stance by stating, “If my party says that I have to contest the election, then I will definitely contest.” She added, “My wish is that I work for the party. I will do what my party wants me to.” Working towards “Mission UP”, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra however does not simply want to work behind the lines as she has made the entire country aware of her efforts by claiming, “You have seen me working till 4 am. I will work harder to accomplish this task.”
There have been increasing demands from party leadership, for Priyanka to contest the elections and Priyanka herself seems to be quite ready. Rahul Gandhi, while putting the onus on his sister stated, “As far as Priyanka is concerned, it is up to her to decide if she wants to contest the election or not”.
After her brother’s muted response, Priyanka publicly asked in a meeting, “Varanasi se lad lun (should I contest from Varanasi?)” This comment of the privileged daughter clearly reveals her desire to take the electoral plunge. Since the leadership has been encouraging her to contest the elections for a long time, they are not going to say no. In effect, this is a spectacle for the cameras.
So this brings us to the obvious question, why a decision is not being taken and what is stopping the Congress party; since Priyanka Gandhi Vadra clearly wants to contest and the party leaders are encouraging her to do so. Moreover, Varanasi will be a very prestigious constituency to make a political debut from. One of the reasons for the non-decision could be fear. Varanasi is a symbolic fight that PM Modi had won over in 2014. He is again contesting from the same and his popularity has only increased. Congress is insecure about its position in the constituency and rightly so. Apart from PM Modi, the chances of the grand old party coming in at number 3 or 4 behind Chandrashekhar Azad and/or the Mahagathbandhan candidate is also quite plausible. This will be highly embarrassing for the Congress and will be a major fiasco for Priyanka’s political debut. On the other hand, her striking resemblance to her grandmother, Indira Gandhi coupled with her infectious smile which seems genuine, she is the more favoured among the masses between the two siblings. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is the best chance the Congress clan has for Varanasi.
Another reason, a more plausible one is that of sibling rivalry. Rahul Gandhi isn’t sending a clear signal because he doesn’t want her to contest. He fears that if she becomes too important, people will start preferring her more, which they covertly anyway do. Apart from Indira Gandhi’s looks and style, Priyanka seems to have inherited her charisma. She is charming and forthcoming, often stops to chat with the people on her trips. She proved herself to be an asset in the 2007 assembly election, when she looked after campaigning in the 10 constituencies that come under Amethi and Raebareli. The Congress won seven of them despite the fact that the party’s presence from UP was virtually erased. She has long been considered the heir to her family’s legacy, as evident from the absolute rejoice she has garnered in the voters since Rahul Gandhi announced her political entry.
“She has been such an enigmatic figure — just her presence alone electrifies people,” says Milan Vaishnav, a political scientist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
However, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has always taken a back foot in politics when it comes to her brother. She is constantly compared to her brother but most analysts feel she is the more natural and outgoing of the two. She always knew her capabilities but perhaps valued her relationship with her brother more. Priyanka has always been careful not to upstage Rahul in public life and is more than willing to let him be the leader he desires to be. Constantly refuting the claims that she is similar to Indira Gandhi, Priyanka, while claiming to identify with her father asserts that it is Rahul who is similar to their grandmother. “His understanding of politics is really very good, much better than he is given credit for. And that I think comes from my grandmother,” she has said. Milan Vaishnav said, “She has been fiercely loyal, highly deferential to her brother when he has been subjected to repeated taunts and barbs at his lack of political acumen. She has never seemed to want to overshadow him.”
Rahul Gandhi is reluctant to give his sister a fair chance not because he feels she will not bring achievements for the Congress but because he feels she may bring too many. He is insecure about his post and feels his sister might take over the party after they lose since his leadership is bound to be challenged.
Overall, the critics and speculators believe all this is an orchestrated show. The family’s contradictory statements and indecision though confusing is actually crystal clear if viewed from beneath the facade of the “Congress pattern”. It happens all the time with the first family. Every member starts off by saying that they don’t want to join politics. Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi were against joining politics and were pushed in because of the circumstances. From the refusal to gradual acceptance, they eventually got integrated into the family business. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra similarly, though does not have an assassination on her hands, has been pushed in because of the rising irrelevance of her party and if the party functioning remains the same, Congress might cease to exist after the 2019 elections. A decade ago, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said in an interview with NDTV, “It would be hard for me to be convinced that the party needed me”. Evidently, that time has come.