The Gandhi family is perhaps the only political dynasty in India, which has first name brand recall across the vast country. So Indians in the remotest village will be familiar with “Sonia”, “Rahul” and “Priyanka”.
Paradoxically, while all of India knows the Gandhi family, we know very little about them.
And, the biggest, long-running question has been will Priyanka Gandhi ever formally join politics and run for office? Congress leaders privately refer to her as their “Brahmaastra” (ultimate weapon) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) overreacts to her, displaying huge nerves.
Priyanka Gandhi is an excellent public speaker, and unlike her mother and brother, seems to have the common touch, an ease with the public that distinguishes the most successful of politicians. Gandhi’s persona and demeanour are near identical to her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who is still very much alive in the collective public memory as a popular prime minister.
Gandhi also has huge dollops of patience. She has waited for years and years for her brother to mature as a politician and has resisted attempts that would make her a parallel power center. The Congress Party, in its veneration of the Gandhi family, resembles the Versailles court and the courtiers must not display loyalty to two courts.
I spent two weeks researching this column and spoke to a lot of people who know Gandhi well. They all had one condition – do not make their names public.
One of them told me a story about how a young Priyanka barged into the office of the then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar, saying she would cremate her father Rajiv Gandhi (killed in a horrific bomb blast) in Rajghat and nowhere else. The anguished daughter, who was a teenager then, got her wish.
Gandhi is married to Robert Vadra and has two children – a boy and a girl, now nearly grown up. Vadra gave his only television interview to me and I found him a pleasant, guileless person. The BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014 had promised to jail Vadra for his alleged corruption within 10 days of taking office. It’s been four plus years and no action has been taken by Modi. Vadra’s business forays (real estate) had brought awful headlines to the Gandhi family.
I did detect that Vadra wanted to be in public life and he parried the question without saying a clear no in the interview.
While Priyanka is not formally in public life, she has long exercised quiet background control of all party decisions such as the Congress Working Committee (CWC). She has also placated and brought around disgruntled leaders such as Digvijaya Singh.
Her nearest public foray into politics was the Uttar Pradesh assembly election, which proved to be a disaster for the Congress. Gandhi abandoned the election mid-way as her son met with an accident and she wanted to take care of him.
As a perceptive friend points out: “The fact that she is not in active politics showed in her limitations of the Uttar Pradesh elections. Her short temper and hyper confidence also proved to be a problem. Credit should also be given to Rahul for the way he let her call all the shots.”
The relationship between the siblings and their mother is rock solid despite Delhi gossip to the contrary. Gandhi has been managing her mother’s constituency of Raebareli for years and if she stands for elections in 2019, it will be from here.
The choice is for Priyanka to make says a family friend. If Gandhi takes a formal plunge, it will mean starting a new career in her 40’s. The BJP is fervently hoping she does not. Hence, the constant attacks on her family by targeting Vadra.
Priyanka, who is graduate of Jesus and Mary College in Delhim, has always juggled her sharp political instincts with baking a mean cup cake for her kids.
For the public, she has the imperial mien of Indira Gandhi coupled with her father Rajiv’s ease. This is in sharp contrast to her brother, who still seems uncomfortable with public life.
Her strong sense of family ensures that she is fiercely protective about the entire brood. Another family friend says: “She will sacrifice herself for her brother without a second thought and he would do the same. The family bond is biggest thing for them all.”
So will she or won’t she? As Sonia Gandhi signals that she wants to retire from public life it is more than likely that Priyanka will step into her shoes.
If that happens, the BJP attacks will escalate and unlike Rahul Gandhi who has donned a “love guru” avatar, expect Priyanka to give back to Modi in his own idiom.
About the author: Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll - Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal