Congress leader Rahul Gandhi with his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra Image Credit: ANI

In India, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, 52, is an instinctive politician who has conformed to traditional patriarchal norms, perhaps even by herself, deferring what the Congress party considered a “natural debut” to her late 40s.

Priyanka has always deferred to her older brother Rahul Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi, both former Congress party presidents, and will finally make her parliamentary debut from Wayanad in Kerala, which her elder brother is vacating in favour of being the Member of Parliament from Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh.

The Gandhi family is close-knit, inseparable, and fiercely protective of each other, so much so that many attempts by the Delhi durbar, who thrive on palace politics, to cause rifts between them have been repulsed.

The Gandhi family is intensely private, and perhaps the bonds of tragedy involving the assassination of two beloved family members, both former Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, have strengthened family ties with heavy tragic bonds.

Nevertheless, Priyanka, who was pulled out of Welham, a girls’ boarding school, after the tragic death of her grandmother to be homeschooled, bid to snatch a normal Delhi girl’s life from the extraordinary circumstances that surrounded her. Priyanka did her graduation in psychology from Jesus & Mary College, a girls’ college in Delhi, and has done her post-graduation in Buddhist studies, which apparently fascinated her.

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Articulate and effective speaker

Priyanka has two children with her husband Robert Vadra, who is always given the suffix “controversial” in Indian media. I am deliberately leaving that out as BJP made huge political capital out of the allegedly deals carried out by him using undue influence and favours.

A decade has passed, and Vadra has still not been convicted of any illegal deal despite serial summons from investigative agencies like the Enforcement Directorate, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and Income Tax.

What does appear to embarrass the Gandhi family is Vadra’s unconcealed desire to get into active politics, which he publicly airs from time to time. As the three members of the Gandhi family will now all be in Parliament together for the first time, Vadra’s political debut is unlikely to happen.

Priyanka is always quick to credit her brother as a political inspiration but is a much more articulate and effective speaker than Rahul Gandhi. Her political jibes, which don’t cross the line into being personal and disrespectful, hark back to a vintage political era when electoral democracy was about opposing the government, not personal vendettas.

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Gandhi looked delighted when it was announced that she would be the candidate for Wayanad, as her electoral debut has been delayed many times. In 2019, she teased the media about a possible candidacy from Kashi against Modi but seemed to shy away from the actual contest.

Despite her heirloom status, Priyanka has had an uphill battle in politics, trying and failing to revive the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh as the general secretary in charge of UP. It was an underwhelming debut.

Gandhi, however, also took political calls behind the scenes, some total failures, such as the removal of Captain Amrinder Singh as Punjab CM, which virtually ushered in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in the border state, and her inexperienced and inexplicable backing of a mercurial Navjot Singh Sidhu.

Priyanka offers no transformational politics but what she has displayed is grit and courage not to abandon politics when the Congress party hit its nadir.

What India and the Congress party will see now is the duopoly of the close-knit brother-sister duo working in tandem. Priyanka’s choice is to always be seen to defer to her big brother publicly.

Priyanka has always worked behind the scenes for the Gandhi family. It will be interesting to finally see her face off against the Modi government in Parliament.