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Asia, Asian Opinions

Ravi Velloor
Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Asia, Asian Opinions

The demons that dog Priyanka

The Straits Times | Ravi Velloor | Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Priyanka Gandhi (right), daughter of India's Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, and her husband Robert Vadra arrive at a polling station to cast their votes in New Delhi on April 10, 2014.

Who loves you, baby?

Who watches for your every smile, every throwaway line that drops from your finely shaped mouth and each elegant wave of your hand? Draws parallels of you with your famous grandmother, Indira Gandhi, gushes at the cotton saris that add another feature of resemblance to the woman some called Empress of India? Who cannot wait for the day you decide that you too will fully enter the political swirl that has been the vocation of four generations of your family?

The thousand television cameras of India's sound-bite-hungry media.

So too a widening section of Congress party men desperately looking for a charismatic figure to lift them out of their looming electoral misery.

Will Ms Priyanka Gandhi Vadra oblige? Should she? It is by no means an easy decision. Certainly, there is a national constituency beyond her door: A study put out by New Delhi's Centre for Media Studies showed that on her forays to defend the parliamentary constituencies of her brother, Rahul, and mother, Sonia, she got twice the prime-time coverage accorded to Mrs Sonia Gandhi, who is president of the ruling Congress Party.

Yet, the journey thus far has not been easy, never mind the power, the adulation, the special handling and the worship you earn from being the most attractive feature of India's foremost political clan. Indians may be enthralled by this figure, seeing strength, wit, vigour and class. But inside, who knows, could be a woman who does not aspire to be much more than a good wife, mother and sister.

After all, at 42, few people could have lost so much. The demons are never far away, lurking behind the happy memories.

Take a look at her life.

It is 1980 and Priyanka and older brother Rahul are in a parked Ambassador car at New Delhi's Palam Airport, not yet named Indira Gandhi International. There is an argument, a little pushing.

In the door-frame, unnoticed, appears a handsome man in the uniform of an airplane captain, smiling as he peeks in at his scrapping pair. A word from him and the duo are subdued. The car drives off, children now busy fawning over Mr Rajiv Gandhi, India's future prime minister.

Some weeks later, as New Delhi's Junior Modern School on Humayun Road celebrates Sports Day, Rajiv and his wife, Sonia, turn up in T-shirts and jeans to mingle unobtrusively with children and fellow parents. Gamely, Rajiv joins a race organised for parents. As the contest starts, he tumbles over and so do a few other parents.

In a trice, portly Sports Minister Buta Singh, chief guest at the function, leaps to be by his side, obsequiously dusting off the younger man's clothes as other parents fend for themselves.

What a fool the Indian politician, attempting to ingratiate himself so plainly! Mrs Indira Gandhi's older son waves him away, and he and Sonia exchange winks and nudges.

Dad and Mum, dinner over at the joint family home they shared with then prime minister Indira Gandhi, driving the short distance to India Gate to relish the popsicles and ice-cream sold by that fat Sikh man whose trolley rolls up every evening and leaves just after 11pm. Which modern kid does not like Mum's pasta, especially when the recipe is straight from Italy and she is only too happy to enter the kitchen. For the pre-teen Priyanka, life would have seemed so complete.

Surely, these and similar other moments must play through the younger Gandhi sibling's mind a thousand times as she determinedly trudged the dusty hinterland of Uttar Pradesh state to rally support for her mother and brother against a tide of public opinion that has swung so sharply against the Congress party they inherited and lead.

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