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September 22, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Priyanka Vadra

'She is an Indian in body and in mind, and loves this country from her heart'

Priyanka Vadra There is talk in Amethi of a Priyanka lehar (wave). Priyanka Vadra, nee Gandhi, has been camping here for the past week to garner votes for her mother Sonia.

An effective campaigner, this attractive 28-year-old with a tragic family history is able to generate both sympathy and adulation among the people. What is startling for many is the resemblance, physical as well as in her energetic campaign style, to her grandmother Indira Gandhi. Although she denies it emphatically in this interview to Suhasini Haidar, it is fairly obvious that Priyanka is already in politics, and is fast becoming the most consummate crowd-puller in the Congress.

What do you attribute the tremendous response you have got in Amethi to?

You'll have to ask the people that. I have been coming to Amethi since I was a child, first with my father and then with my mother. The people have always been this affectionate. I am here to assure them that my mother will be here for them and will work for them always.

But they rejected the Congress here the last time and elected the BJP candidate Sanjay Singh instead.

They did not vote for the BJP, there was large-scale booth capturing here, which caused the result. Till date, people here say that they don't believe the result. And they will probably try to do that again. Already I have heard reports of AK-47s being brought into the constituency. They are trying to intimidate the people so that they don't come out and vote for the Congress. But how long can you suppress them? In fact another reason I am here is to ensure that we make proper arrangements in Amethi to stop any booth capturing on the polling day.

Tell me, you have lost both your father and your grandmother in brutal ways to public life. Is it worth it for you to come into public life too?

As long as people have hope in you, as long as people think that you can help them, that you can do things for them, it will always be worth it.

What about this election? What do you see as the prospects for the Congress party, especially as this is a test of Sonia Gandhi's leadership too?

I don't think this election is a test for my mother. Her real task is to try and make the Congress strong. Winning and losing are part of politics, and they don't make a difference. After all, Indiraji was able to come back to power just three years after losing so badly in 1977. And another thing, I don't think we are going to do as badly as is projected in the media.

Take the case of Amethi. The people are really keen to vote for the Congress because they have had no development here with the current government in power. In some ways, not only have they not developed the place, things have gone back to before where my father started. I mean, even electricity poles that were erected in front of me by my father 10 years ago today have no wiring on them. The people are really unhappy.

You speak like a politician, you are campaigning here like one, why do you keep denying that you will join politics?

I have said it a thousand times now, but I will repeat: I am not interested in joining politics, and I am only here to campaign for my mother. I know it looks very different in the media, but I am very clear that I am doing this for my mother.

How do you react to the allegations against your mother, including FERA violations?

I don't react. Because these are not personal allegations, but political tactics. And you can't stop people from playing politics.

How about the fact that your mother took 15 years to take Indian citizenship, and is unfit to be prime minister because of her foreign origin?

Priyanka Vadra (Deep sigh) Listen, let me tell you that if my mother had taken Indian citizenship the day she married my father, I think that would have been very hypocritical. After all, she was only 21 at the time and it does take time to develop feelings for a place. But then she did. Citizenship is merely a technicality, a piece of paper. It is what is in her heart that counts. And I can tell you what is in her heart. She is an Indian in body and in mind, and loves this country from her heart. If she was truly a foreigner in India, wouldn't she have tried to bring us (Rahul and her) up differently? Would we be so Indian in the way we speak, the way we look, the way we dress?

To go back to an earlier question, doesn't the prospect of politics frighten you after what happened to your father and to your grandmother?

What happened to them was not a reflection on politics. These things happen. And in a way, I realised this at a young age after Indiraji's death. Every time my father left the house, we were aware that he may never return. I still haven't got over his death, but I can't blame politics for that.

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