Priyanka steps up to fight for India’s Congress party


Indian Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s sister clashed with an estranged cousin running in the election on an opposition ticket on Tuesday, in a new sign of aggression that partymen hope will draw her deeper into active politics to revive their fortunes.

Priyanka Gandhi, two years younger than Rahul, is seen as a more natural leader in the hurly-burly of Congress than her brother who has often seemed remote and is struggling to stave off a likely heavy defeat in the five-week vote.

She told reporters on the campaign trail in her brother’s constituency that she could not forgive her cousin Varun for fighting the election as a candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that her party reviles.

The BJP’s Narendra Modi has won support on promises to jumpstart a flagging economy and sweep out the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of the period since independence in 1947.

“This is not a family tea party. It is an ideological war. (I) would not have forgiven my child, if he did something like this,” she said in Amethi, northern India, as Varun registered as an opposition candidate in a neighbouring constituency.

Those comments brought to the fore a long-running estrangement in India’s most famous political dynasty whose every move is watched by India’s billion-plus population and which remains intensely secretive.

Varun is the son of Sanjay Gandhi, the younger of former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s sons who died in an air crash in 1980. Rahul and Priyanka are children of the elder son and former minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was assassinated by a Tamil suicide bomber in 1991.

Varun’s mother fell out with Indira Gandhi soon after her husband’s death and later was a minister in a BJP government.