Several interpretations are doing the rounds in political circles regarding the reason, content and timing of the interview given by Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to a video news agency some days back. Vadra, who had stated upfront that he did not need Priyanka to enhance his life, also declared that he was there on his own steam and had inherited enough to lead a comfortable life. At the same time, he factored in the possibility of making a foray in the domain of politics.
While Vadra took everyone by surprise by omitting any direct reference to the Gandhi family, his close associate and now relative, Tehseen Poonawala, while appearing on a TV channel, attempted to justify the interview. It was probably not a mere coincidence that while Poonawala was answering questions, the camera continually focused on a photo frame in the backdrop picturing profiles of Indira Gandhi and her granddaughter Priyanka. The impression thus created was that Vadra did not wish to belittle his wife, who, in fact, was seen by many as the legitimate inheritor of her grandmother’s legacy now sought to be transferred to her brother Rahul by their mother Sonia.
Nobody in the Congress was willing to speak on record regarding Vadra’s controversial interview, which many feel was held at the behest of Vadra and his friends, although the news agency has yet to authenticate this inference. A senior Congress leader recalled that a similar interview with the same tone and tenor was granted by Vadra to the Times of India in 2010 when there were strong rumours regarding an impending separation between him and Priyanka. The rumours had fizzled away after the publication of the interview.
In the present instance too, there has been speculation that Priyanka was all set to join active electoral politics probably in 2019 when she would contest from Rae Bareli, although there have been suggestions that she should be the face of the Congress in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections next year. Vadra’s interview is perhaps an indication of Priyanka’s plans and also underlines that the son-in-law does not apparently figure in the scheme of things of the Gandhis and is thus disgruntled.
Vadra has repeatedly shown keen interest in politics, having campaigned in Sonia Gandhi’s and Rahul’s constituencies in the 2012 UP Assembly elections. At the time, he had granted interviews to page three type publications, wherein he spoke at length about the amount of effort he puts in during his workouts at the gym and his ardour for macho sports like riding high powered motorcycles. However, few have taken him seriously so far as his political ambitions go and there has been a constant demand for getting Priyanka to politics to save the Congress, nurtured by four generations of the Nehru-Gandhis.
There are a handful in the Congress who view Vadra’s interview as an act of serving a notice to his in-laws that any attempt of marginalising him would bear serious repercussions. He referred to his affluent parental family and the fact that he led an elite lifestyle even before he tied the knot with Priyanka. Inversely, he is also trying to communicate that his acquisitions during the UPA rule in Haryana, Rajasthan and elsewhere were due to his own business acumen. Vadra, therefore, is giving an impression that he is being made to fend for himself and that his in-laws have refused to defend him publicly.
He is also attempting to convey that he would fight it out solo and is undeterred by the attacks on him. The interview seems to be synchronised when there is serious talk in Congress circles of promoting Rahul Gandhi as the party chief in place of his mother ahead of his 46th birthday in June.
There is immense anxiety in the Congress over the outcome of the ongoing Assembly elections and about those to be held in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and some other states next year. For UP, Rahul Gandhi’s blue eyed adviser, Prashant Kishor had recommended Priyanka’s name for leading the campaign, but she seems reluctant and has reportedly conveyed her misgivings to both her brother and her mother. There is also a proposal that is awaiting the party high command’s approval of making former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit as the campaign spearhead in the country’s most populous state. Dikshit’s detractors, however, feel that it was a suicide wish, given that she has the dubious distinction of losing by 26,500 votes while being still in office and in the process also forfeiting her deposit. Before she had entered Delhi’s political arena, she had lost three Lok Sabha elections from UP, from Kannauj, now represented by Akhilesh Yadav.
Therefore, how could the party consider her to lead? Insiders claim that Dikshit was evincing interest in leading the campaign in order to promote her son Sandeep, who may find it difficult to win from anywhere in Delhi after she ceased to be the Chief Minister and believes that he may find a constituency if she is in the thick of action in UP. There is also speculation regarding the appointment of Sanjay Singh as the president of the UP unit, despite the fact that the party leadership fully knows that he is a spent force and may find it difficult to stop his son A.P. Singh from an earlier marriage to Garima Singh from winning in Amethi on a BJP ticket. The UP Congress strategy needs to be re-visited.
There is a growing resentment over how the party is unprepared to face the onslaught from its adversaries in several states. It continues to have the same team of office bearers who are held responsible by the rank and file as the reason for the drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls of 2014. In addition, leaders whose political relevance has diminished continue to be favoured by the high command and are being rewarded for their non-performance. The distribution of Rajya Sabha seats to some of the non performing functionaries is being viewed as a matter of surprise by the grassroots workers. It is crystal clear that the fault lines in the Congress are becoming amplified.