Robert Vadra is India’s most famous son-in-law. Priyanka Gandhi’s husband was derisively described as “damaadji” (son-in-law) by Narendra Modi in 2014. Modi used his alleged corruption in land deals as a shorthand to dis all that ails the Congress, a corrupt dynasty fattening itself on the public purse. Now Vadra, who has been nursing political ambitions for years, has hinted that he is ready for his political debut.
Modi has used Vadra as a weapon to bludgeon the Congress and promised to arrest him within a week of coming to power. Nearly five years have passed, but no action has been taken against Vadra. When the headlines threaten to be particularly bad for the Modi government, Vadra is summoned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for some headline management and spin.
The Gandhi family is sympathetic to the claims that Vadra is a “victim of political vendetta” and yet has huge resistance to his desire to enter active politics. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi realise that it would be an epic own goal for the Congress if he enters politics now giving the BJP fresh ammunition against the Congress.
Vadra has only done one extensive sit-down interview and that was with me. So his recent huge hint that he is ready to enter politics did not surprise me at all. Vadra seemed keen even then, sort of straining at the leash.
Vadra now regularly comments on the news cycle and shares pictures of himself in temples and doing charitable work.
Gone are the workout pictures and photographs of his vacations in exotic destinations. Also gone are comments of a “mango man in a banana republic”, a convoluted way to call himself an “aam admi” (ordinary man).
Instead, he is politically correct, wishing his wife on her political debut, sharing photographs with his two children: the image of the perfect family man.
I will enter politics all in time. I plan to start working on it, but I am in no hurry. I have to earn it and the people need to see that I can make a change.
Yet, the BJP was ecstatic at the thought of Vadra in politics as he is the perfect soft target. The day Priyanka Gandhi assumed charge as general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, she also escorted Vadra to the ED office for interrogation. Perfect optics, which even the BJP could not quibble about. The ideal Indian wife supporting her husband. Priyanka proclaimed that Vadra is her “family”. And after attending a roadshow in Lucknow, she flew to Jaipur to show support to Vadra and her septuagenarian mother-in-law who were both summoned by the ED there.
Vadra is no longer coy about his political ambitions, telling me exclusively for the Gulf News: “I will enter politics all in time. I plan to start working on it, but I am in no hurry.” Vadra stressed: “I have to earn it and the people need to see that I can make a change.”
Mysterious posters came up in his hometown of Moradabad hailing him as a Lok Sabha candidate. Subsequently, the Congress party took steps to squelch the speculation. But realisation is steadily dawning that Vadra and wife come as a package deal. And while the Congress is thrilled at the prospect of politician Priyanka, it has yet to accept candidate Vadra.
Realisation is steadily dawning that Vadra and wife come as a package deal. And while the Congress is thrilled at the prospect of politician Priyanka, it has yet to accept candidate Vadra.
In family matters, sources say, the entire Gandhi family defers to Vadra. Sonia Gandhi is a traditional mother-in-law and extremely fond of Vadra, even cooking for him. Vadra has always been a supportive husband and is very close to Rahul Gandhi sharing a common passion for fitness.
Vadra in that exclusive interview had shared with me that he was happy running his business and the allegations against him were baseless. He spoke of how he Priyanka were a united family and he was hurt that he was viewed as an “upstart” trying to cash in on the Gandhi family mystique.
I come from a very decent family and it is hurtful to see all these allegations being made.
He said: “I come from a very decent family and it is hurtful to see all these allegations being made.” Five years down the line, no action has been taken and Vadra, who refashioned his physique and got extremely fit doing marathon cycling, is now ready to go for the political long haul.