Why the Gandhi family’s strongest living politician has never entered politics

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attracts attention whether she wants it or not.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra attracts attention whether she wants it or not.
Image: REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has long been considered one of India’s ruling Congress Party’s untapped assets. The granddaughter of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, she not only bears a striking resemblance, but also shares her charisma and natural political skills—gifts her brother Rahul lacks.

In the midst of India’s national elections, as rival Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Narendra Modi appears to be in the lead, why Vadra hasn’t taken a bigger political role has become news again this week after she set off a media storm by blasting her cousin “This is not a family tea party. It’s an ideological war,” she said, referring to her cousin Varun Gandhi, who joined the opposition.

Priyanka, 42, a mother of two, has always said she wasn’t interested in running for a district seat herself, preferring to help run her brother and mother Sonia’s campaigns. This week she seemed to leave a sliver of doubt about that decision, saying “my decision to not contest is only personal. I will only change it when I feel from within that I should.”

Several times in the past two decades she has insisted the decision was deeply personal:

While campaigning for her mother in 1999, a 27-year-old Gandhi said:

“I am very clear in my mind. Politics is not a strong pull, the people are. And I can do things for them without being in politics.”

Again in 1999, she denied her father’s Rajiv’s assassination while prime minister, or her grandmothers, were behind her reluctance:

“These things happen. And in a way, I realized this at a young age after Indiraji’s death. Every time my father left the house, we were aware that he may never return. I still haven’t got over his death, but I can’t blame politics for that.”

In 2009 she used several lengthy interviews to explain her decision.

Her grandmother’s influence made her plan to be in politics as a teen, but a stint of Vipasana meditation convinced her differently, she said in one TV interview:

“I was so troubled by the fact that I didn’t know my mind, so I just disappeared and went for 10 days of meditation, so that I better know what my own mind is, rather than what other people want of me.”

In a second interview in 2009, she said her children shaped her decision:

“I go to Khan Market to buy my groceries, look after my kids, make them cupcakes. That’s what I do. I am not involved in the political process. When my help is required by my brother or mother now and then for something or other, then they always do ask me (for help), and I do.

As comfortable as I look in the situation, and as naturally as it comes to me, there is also a side of me that makes me extremely uncomfortable making this the choice for the rest of my life. It is simply not the quality of life I want to lead.”