New Delhi: Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has said she fully agrees with brother Rahul Gandhi when he says a non-Gandhi should be appointed the Congress president.
“Perhaps not in the (resignation) letter but elsewhere, he has said that none of us should be the president of the party and I am in full agreement with him,” Priyanka has said. “I think that the party should find its own path also.”
Priyanka’s tell-all interview features in the book India Tomorrow: Conversations with the Next Generation of Political Leaders, authored by Pradeep Chibber and Harsh Shah, and published on 13 August.
She has also insisted that a party president, even if not from the Gandhi family, would be her ‘boss’. “If he (party president) tells me tomorrow that he doesn’t want me in Uttar Pradesh but wants me to be in Andaman and Nicobar, then I would jolly well go to Andaman and Nicobar,” Vadra has been quoted as saying.
Rahul Gandhi, after resigning from the post of Congress president following the party’s electoral drubbing in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, had reportedly asserted in internal party meetings that a non-Gandhi be made the next president.
Sonia Gandhi, however, was soon made the interim party president in August last year. In the last few months, there has been an increasing demand within the Congress to hold elections for the post of party president.
‘Showed son every single transaction after corruption charges’
In the interview, Priyanka also says she showed “every single transaction” to her son Rehan, then 13 years old, after the BJP began making allegations of corruption against her husband Robert Vadra in 2013.
“After all the allegations were made about my husband, my first reaction was to pay a visit to my 13-year-old son and to show him every single transaction,” Priyanka is quoted as having said. “I explained this to my daughter as well. I don’t hide things from my children, even the mistakes I make or the weaknesses I have. I am very open with them.”
The Congress general secretary has said her husband’s interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate, which would “go on for hours”, as well as all the TV debates on the matter, had started taking a toll on their children.
“My son was in an all-boys boarding school, and he faced a lot of difficulties there because of these things,” she says in the book.
Priyanka also speaks of how she discussed with her children what many media reports had to say about her family members — back when they were still young. One such article, she says, alleged that her Italian grandmother, Sonia Gandhi’s mother, was an agent for the Russian spy agency, KGB, and “used to smuggle antiques out of India”.
“… but my grandmother is such a typical Italian grandmother,” Priyanka says. “She spends all her time in the kitchen cooking pasta sauce, cleaning the house, doing the ironing, and my kids knew that…We had a big laugh imagining her smuggling antiques, speaking Russian, and meeting KGB people on the sly somewhere.”
She adds, “That was their first introduction to the fact that they should not believe everything they see or read about their family.”
Priyanka’s interview is part of a series of multiple such interviews with the country’s most prominent next-generation politicians that feature in the book.
Assassinations in the family
In the interview, Priyanka also speaks of how the two assassinations in her family — of her grandmother Indira Gandhi in 1984 and that of her father Rajiv Gandhi in 1991— tremendously affected her childhood.
“So the seven-year period between the two assassinations, we actually lived in fear of my father’s assassination,” Priyanka is quoted as saying. “I would not go to sleep until I heard him coming back home at night. And I would think that every time he was going away, he was not coming back.”
As a consequence, she says, she has put in a lot of effort to ensure her children get a “normal childhood”.
On the question of ‘baggage’ her children would potentially be carrying, owing to everything that is said about their father, Priyanka says she is “not one of those people who sit here and say what a painful life”.
“I had to carry baggage of assassination, they would have to carry baggage of political propaganda against their family and another kid in a village carries a baggage of poverty.”
Priyanka further reveals how she was “an extremely extroverted and competitive child in school”, but became reclusive later on in life, in order to preserve the privacy of her children.
Speaking about the pressures she faced when her grandmother was the Prime Minister, Priyanka says she would “get thrown into everything” at school, because it was assumed her grandmother would come and watch.
“So, one of the things about growing up in this kind of world is that your assessment of yourself is very hard to achieve,” she says. “You don’t know if you are in the gymnastics team because you are a good gymnast or because your grandmother is going to come and watch your gymnastics competition.”
Priyanka and elections
Priyanka has also spoken of how it was a retreat at a Vipassana centre back in 1999, which led her against joining politics.
“Back in 1999, there was a question of whether I should stand for an election, and I thought to myself, that I would not be able to make up my mind over here because everybody is going to tell me what they think I should do,” she recalls.
Still hurt and angry over her father’s assassination, Priyanka says, it was at this retreat that she started ‘processing’ her feelings.
Two decades after this, however, Priyanka officially entered politics — just months ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections — and assumed the position of Congress general secretary in-charge of Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
Priyanka says it was witnessing the “destruction of everything that our freedom fighters fought for and built” that pushed her to finally join politics.
“Watching all this happening around you, and thinking that you are going to take care of your kids and pretend that you have nothing to do with it, became an impossibility. I just could not do it anymore,” the book quotes her as saying.
On comparisons with her grandmother, especially her communication skills and personality, Priyanka says she shares traits with all her family members.
“If you took me to a party, you would find me sitting in a corner not talking to anyone. If you take me to a village, I will be talking to everybody,” she adds.
Rahul Gandhi, her ‘best friend’
Priyanka also speaks about her relationship with her brother, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi, and the “fundamental differences” between the two.
“He thinks more long term than I do. I am more in the moment,” Priyanka says. “He will think 15 years ahead, if you ask me about 15 years ahead I will be too busy processing the next five days to be able to think that far.”
She adds, “If I have any vestiges of anger, he has got even less. He is definitely wiser.”
Growing up, Priyanka says, the two were “confined to home”, and that there were “long stretches of loneliness where just the two of us hanging around in an empty house, with parents touring quite a lot for work”.
Priyanka also says the two would fight a lot growing up. “Now, I would say that he is my best friend.”
‘Frankly, I need not be remembered’
Priyanka says she is “very anti-legacy” and that she isn’t in politics because she has a legacy to preserve.
“I think kids should not have a legacy. We should not leave them with a legacy of good or legacy of bad. They should be free,” she says.
“And therefore, I frankly need not be remembered.”
Congress slow to understand new media
The book quotes Priyanka as saying the Congress party “took a while to understand what new media is like”.
“Back in the 1980s, there would be an article in the newspaper from which you kept a dignified silence and kept working. That formula worked,” she says. “Today, it doesn’t work anymore. Today, unless you say, your word is not out there.”
Priyanka says the BJP’s campaign against the Congress has been very “well-entrenched”.
“I think the BJP campaign’s impression has been so strong and so well entrenched that even people who are close to us, who see our way of life, have probably questioned things,” she says.
“It was such a well-orchestrated campaign that went on for so long, that by the time we woke up to the fact that we ought to be telling our side, the damage had already been done.”