Priyanka Gandhi steps up to fight for Congress
New Delhi: Priyanka Gandhi clashed with estranged cousin Varun Gandhi, who is running in election on a Bharatiya Janata Party 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.
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 BJP that her party reviles.
Narendra Modi has won support on promises to jumpstart a flagging economy and sweep out Congress.
"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, as Varun filed nomination papers as an opposition candidate in Sultanpur, 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 the billion-plus population and which remains intensely secretive.
"HEART OF INDIA"
"This election is a fight for the heart of India," Priyanka said, echoing the Congress campaign that BJP administration led by Modi would be damaging to secular foundations of India.
Varun hit back at his cousin saying she had crossed the lines of decency.
Priyanka's comments come amid persistent calls from Congress elders that she plays a greater role in the party that an opinion poll suggested on Monday was set for a defeat.
Priyanka has repeatedly said she will only campaign in the constituencies of her mother Sonia and her brother Rahul.
"The media is trying to make a big issue of it. She has said so many times her role is limited to the two constituencies. We should respect that decision," spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said.
But clamour for the charismatic Priyanka has risen at each election. This election, party insiders say, she has spent more time at Rahul's campaign headquarters.
Rasheed Kidwai, a journalist who has written a biography on Sonia, said Priyanka appeared to be playing a greater role than previously, helping Rahul plan his campaign and acting as the bridge to the old guard, some of whom have been ruffled by his team.
"It's not a question of Rahul or Priyanka. It will probably be Rahul and Priyanka given the scale of the challenge that the Congress faces in the election and beyond."
The BJP was dismissive, saying the Congress party's faith in one dynasty was the cause of its undoing.
"The family charisma has faded away ... The real solution to the problem is to make Congress a more structured party. The Congress party solution is, if one incumbent in the family fails, the alternative can only be another member of the family," senior leader Arun Jaitley wrote in a blog.