Another member of Gandhi dynasty weighs into bitter Indian election battle

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, seen as more charismatic than brother Rahul, gives speech calling for power 'in the hands of the people'

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the youngest adult member of south Asia's most powerful political dynasty, weighed into India's increasingly bitter election campaign on Wednesday with a speech in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Gandhi Vadra, 42, is the sister of Rahul Gandhi, the public face of the incumbent Congress party's bid to retain power for a third term, and the daughter of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party's president.

"You have to decide whether you want politics where strength and power lies in the hands of the people or is vested in just one man," Gandhi Vadra told a crowd in the impoverished rural seat of Rae Bareli.

A series of opinion surveys have put the opposition Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), led by a controversial Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, far ahead of the Congress party. A poll earlier this week indicated that the BJP may even achieve a majority, which would be a crushing defeat for the centre-left party led by the Gandhis.

Critics say Modi, who is chief minister of Gujarat, has authoritarian tendencies and is prejudiced along sectarian lines. Modi rejects both charges.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947 but is increasingly unpopular even in its heartlands. A series of corruption scandals, flagging economic growth and rising food prices have sapped support for the Congress party after a decade in power.

A Congress minister said, on condition of anonymity, that Gandhi Vadra, who is not standing for parliament, was not seeking to upstage her elder brother but was simply "lending a hand".

"She has a formidable intellect and is working hard and loyally because her brother is travelling so much he cannot attend to every and all things at once," the minister said.

There have been reports that Congress is planning a more public role for Gandhi Vadra, with suggestions that she might even stand as a Congress candidate against Modi, 63, in the hugely significant seat of Varanasi, the northern holy city. The party eventually picked a "local" candidate.

In contrast to her older brother Rahul, Gandhi Vadra is seen as charismatic, decisive and a good orator. But she has repeatedly said she will only campaign in the constituencies of her mother, Sonia, and her brother.

"The media is trying to make a big issue of it," said a Congress party spokesman, Shakeel Ahmed. "She has said so many times her role is limited to the two constituencies. We should respect that decision."

Gandhi Vadra is often compared to her grandmother, the immensely powerful and polarising prime minister Indira Gandhi, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her bodyguards in 1984 and her son, Rajiv, who was Gandhi Vadra's father, was killed in a suicide bombing in 1991.

Political analysts say Gandhi Vadra is mediating between an "old guard" within the Congress party that is resisting reforms pushed by 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi, and a younger generation of parliamentarians and unelected officials who believe the party must change radically if it is to regain power.

Rasheed Kidwai, a journalist who has written a biography of Sonia Gandhi, said portrayals of the two siblings as rivals were wrong. "It's not a question of Rahul or Priyanka. It will probably be Rahul and Priyanka, given the scale of the challenge that the Congress faces in the election and beyond," he told Reuters.

The BJP has dismissed Gandhi Vadra's efforts, saying the Congress party's faith in one dynasty was its undoing. "The family charisma has faded away ... The real solution to the problem is to make Congress a more structured party. The Congress party solution is [that] if one incumbent in the family fails, the alternative can only be another member of the family," Arun Jaitley, a senior leader of the party, wrote in a blog.

Contributor

Jason Burke in Delhi

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The real reasons behind Narendra Modi's victory | @guardianletters
Letters: Modi's victory is a revolt against India's democratic capitalism, which failed to create sustainable growth beyond 5%

21, May, 2014 @6:11 PM

Article image
Rahul Gandhi gives rare interview in bid to appear approachable before polls
Scion of India's most famous political dynasty says he has no immediate plans to marry and reveals dislike of Hollywood films

Jason Burke in Delhi

17, Mar, 2014 @3:19 PM

Article image
Rahul Gandhi launches Indian election campaign with appeal to young people

Son of Sonia Gandhi promises to bring in 'young government' as analysts say 120 million first-time voters will be key

Jason Burke in Delhi

09, Oct, 2013 @3:07 PM

Article image
Former Indian MP jailed for life over 1984 Sikh massacre
Congress party’s Sajjan Kumar is most prominent figure to be convicted over mass murder

Michael Safi in Delhi

17, Dec, 2018 @9:35 AM

Article image
India's 550m voters usher in a new era
Exit polls predict BJP opposition of Narendra Modi, an outsider, will oust the centre-left Congress party after massive turnout

Jason Burke in Delhi

12, May, 2014 @7:59 PM

Article image
Rahul Gandhi insists he is ready to win Indian election in first TV interview
Scion of India's first political family says he is against concept of dynasty and that personal tragedies have hardened him to loss

Jason Burke in Delhi

27, Jan, 2014 @7:13 PM

Article image
Indian PM Manmohan Singh 'not in charge', new book claims
Criticism of outgoing PM grows amid allegations that Congress party president Sonia Gandhi has been calling the shots

Anu Anand in Delhi

11, Apr, 2014 @6:05 PM

Article image
Are Sonia and Rahul Gandhi caught in a dance with destiny they can't escape? | Ian Jack
Rahul's grandmother was gunned down and his father blown up in a suicide bombing. But even now, after a massive election defeat, it seems he and his mother cannot escape Indian politics, writes Ian Jack

Ian Jack

24, May, 2014 @3:00 AM

Article image
Indian election: the unholy battle for Varanasi
A three-way fight between the BJP, Congress and the upstart AAP for India's holiest city reveals a fight between competing styles and visions

Jason Burke in Varanasi

09, May, 2014 @5:45 PM

Indian election result: 2014 is Modi's year as BJP secures victory
Follow live updates after the BJP and its Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi secured a crushing victory

Oliver Laughland and Matthew Weaver

16, May, 2014 @4:12 PM