In Robert Vadra’s Wake

Kunal Majumder tracks the uneasy reaction of the Congress party to the Gandhi son-in-law’s muscle-flexing in Rae Bareli

ON THE last two days of the Rae Bareli campaign, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s arrival is a much awaited event in Unchahar, a rural Assembly seat in Sonia Gandhi’s constituency. A patient bunch waits by a tea stall at Sahebganj, where the roadshow will begin. They are discussing the grand rallies addressed by Sonia Gandhi, Rajnath Singh, and Akhilesh Yadav. All the VIPs were here to woo the most high-profile constituency in the country.

Priyanka arrives. They rush to greet her, then join the cavalcade of cars and bikes. The tea stall owner collects the cups. Does he want Robert Vadra as his MP? “Vadra kaun?” he asks, with a genuine naivete.

Die-hard Congressmen – in Rae Bareli at least – are reticent about Vadra. Prod them on Vadra’s desire to enter politics and you get “Who fights the election from here is entirely the family’s decision.” “Media is always trying to create misunderstanding within the family”. “Vadra was only trying to help.”

Around 30 km from Unchahar is Salon, where Vadra first announced his desire to fight elections in future. CP Singh, scion of the erstwhile royal family of Salon, had organised the motorbike rally that incurred the Election Commission’s ire. His family has long hosted the Gandhis during their visits. Rajasaab, as he is called, is busy with the campaign so his brother JP Singh aka ‘Chote Raja’ fields questions.

Will his family support Vadra if he contests from Rae Bareli? Ignoring the question, he lists the benefits the Congress would reap if Priyanka enters active politics. “I don’t know why Rahulji is not allowing her,” he says.

When Vadra announced he would fight elections if “people wished him to”, Priyanka was in Amethi, wrapping up her campaign. She had insisted then that he would continue with his business, away from politics. But Vadra repeated himself in an interview to a news channel that same evening.

Since 1997, when he married Priyanka, Vadra has been visiting Amethi and Rae Bareli with his wife and brother-in- law. Rarely alone. No wonder, an observer says he is “just Priyanka’s husband, not a leader in his own right.”

In contrast, for the last 14 years, Priyanka has only visited Amethi and Rae Bareli during elections. “Yet, there is strong affection for her among the people of Rae Bareli and Amethi,” says Ashok Pandey, Congressman from Rae Bareli. Will this affection also extend to Vadra? “Not as much as it is for Rahul and Priyanka,” he says. Cajole him a bit and he opens up. “Vadra really doesn’t understand this place as Rahul and Priyanka do,” he claims.

In Rae Bareli, voter Arjun Agrawal rues that the present MLA Akhilesh Singh would be elected again. When asked about Vadra, he laughs out loud. “If Sonia wanted him to enter politics, she would have asked him long back,” he reasons. There is also a feeling that Vadra can never win an election without the backing of the Gandhi family.

In Amethi, Dharmendra Shukla, vice president of Amethi Youth Congress, does not think Vadra nurses political ambitions. He recalls the last Lok Sabha elections when Vadra supervised the putting up of posters on walls at night. Do the people of Amethi want to see Vadra as their MP? “Nobody in the Gandhi family enters politics on people’s demand,” says Shukla, sagely. “We have been demanding that Priyankaji enter politics, for the last 10 years. Yet, she refuses.”

After thinking awhile, he adds, “We would prefer Priyankaji any day.”

At the campaign in Unchahar, Priyanka is accompanied by Congress MP Rajiv Shukla. Vadra was nowhere to be seen. She ignores questions about Vadra from the ever-excited media, whom she accuses of trying to drive a wedge between her and her husband.

Chatter has already begun about when she would visit again. Will she return in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as a candidate, in view of Sonia’s ill health? Or will it be the son-in-law?

Published in Tehelka: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main51.asp?filename=Ne250212ROBERT.asp

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