Priyanka Gandhi (Priyanka Gandhi Vadra), the younger sister of Rahul Gandhi. Both Priyanka and Rahul come from a storied family that has framed Indian politics since the nation’s independence in 1947. Their grandmother Indira Gandhi, daughter of the country’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and their father Rajiv Gandhi, were both massively popular prime ministers before they were assassinated.
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.
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.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had lost her father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to an attack by an LTTE suicide bomber on May 21, 1991. Her grandmother, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
The Gandhis have led Congress for decades. Following the death of Rajiv, his wife Sonia, who is of Italian descent, took over the party’s presidency and passed the reins over to her son Rahul in 2017. Priyanka has previously participated in Congress campaigns but never held an official post in the party until now.
Under Rahul’s leadership, Congress’ performance has been dwindling and the party suffered major losses in the 2014 general election. But after winning three state polls in December, the party’s morale is on the rise. It now stands a real chance of revitalization with the addition of Priyanka, experts say.
“The fact that Priyanka Gandhi has entered Indian politics at this particular juncture marks a major turning point for a party that many had written off as one whose importance was a thing of the past,” Lindsay Hughes, senior research analyst at Future Directions International, an Australian think tank, said in a recent note. “It is very possible that she could make a difference at the ballot box.”
Ms Gandhi has always been considered more popular of the Gandhi siblings with many blaming the “lacklustre leadership” of her brother for a string of Congress defeats between 2014 and 2018.
Priyanka’s new role also coincides with rising criticism toward Modi’s government.
The parallels between Priyanka and her grandmother are considered key to Congress votes. Her physical resemblance to Indira, India’s only female prime minister, saw Congress supporters carry signs saying “Indira is back” when the Gandhi siblings began a roadshow in Uttar Pradesh this week.
“The conflation of Priyanka with Indira could lend to the perception that the Congress Party has re-discovered its purpose, that it has a definite goal and that the secularism it has historically espoused and the safety it offers India’s minorities could replace the Bharatiya Janata Party’s nationalistic tendencies,” said Hughes.
Despite limited political experience, Priyanka’s “modest forays into public life suggest a natural comfort with the thrust and parry of Indian politics,” said Milan Vaishnav, director and senior fellow of the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a note.
Sentiment aside, there’s a much more tangible way that Priyanka can help Congress — by attracting fresh funds.
“The Priyanka Gandhi play is not only about winning allies and lifting spirits; it’s also about cash,” said Vaishnav. “The party is short of it, and Gandhi substitutes for the political finance that the Congress desperately needs.”
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.”
The Gandhi family has enjoyed cult status in these underdeveloped areas where her father Rajiv and grandmother Indira Gandhi – both former prime ministers – also won several elections.
Ms Gandhi is married to businessman Robert Vadra who has been accused of wrongdoing in his real estate business in the states of Haryana and Rajasthan and is under investigation.
Mr Vadra and the Gandhis have denied the allegations and accuse the BJP of a “political witch hunt”.
- Priyanka Gandhi Biography and Profile (Goodreadbiography / CNBC)