Younger Gandhi steals the show with charm and charisma

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 April, 2009, 12:00am

The understudy is stealing the show. Priyanka Gandhi, 37, has been babysitting her mother and brother's constituencies while they campaign across India for the Congress party, but her charm and charisma have turned her into a youth icon and the star of this election.

While her mother Sonia is Congress president and brother Rahul, 38, is tipped to be a future prime minister, Priyanka Gandhi has stayed out of politics, preferring to raise her two young children. But during her exhausting tours of Amethi and Rae Bareilly - the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty's family seats in Uttar Pradesh - she has impressed people with not only the star appeal of her looks, but her lack of arrogance and apparent sincerity - qualities that young, educated Indians find lacking in many politicians.

'She is one of the most famous faces in India but she's more down-to-earth than most politicians,' said Mrinal Tiwari, a lecturer in a college near Amethi.

In her brightly coloured saris, Ms Gandhi manages to appeal to villagers as well as the urban elite for whom she represents a new 'modern' India.

In this election, Ms Gandhi has shed some of her earlier reservations about talking to the media.

She has chatted openly about Rahul's marriage plans ('Why don't you ask him? We've been after him for a long time') and how she admires her mother's evolution from a reclusive housewife into a political leader.

With Tamil Tiger chief Velupillai Prabhakaran facing his final days under siege by the Sri Lankan army, she was asked how she felt about the man accused in the assassination of her father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. She said that while India could not forgive Prabhakaran for the murder of its leader, she personally felt 'no hatred or anger for him'.

Ms Gandhi also revealed a willingness to take on rivals, defending Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against critics who taunted him as 'weak'.

Reacting to a leader who said the 125-year-old Congress was like 'an old woman', she flashed her famous dimpled smile and asked reporters: 'Do I look like an old woman to you?'

The speculation for years in the Congress Party has been that once her children are older, Ms Gandhi would take the plunge into politics.

For the first time, she admitted that this was a possibility.

'As I am growing older, I have understood that 'never' is a bad word. I am not going to say 'never',' she said during her campaigning.

Earlier this week, her husband Robert Vadra backed this up. 'She will be there [in politics] at the right time ... and will have a good future as well.'