Congress leaders hope family row will lure Priyanka Gandhi to join election

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 10:47pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 April, 2014, 10:47pm

Indian Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's sister has clashed with an estranged cousin running in the election on an opposition ticket, in a new sign of aggression that Gandhi supporters 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 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 jump-start 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 a candidate in a neighbouring constituency.

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 prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who was killed 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.

"This election is a fight for the heart of India," Priyanka said, echoing the Congress campaign that a BJP administration led by Modi would be damaging to India's secular foundations.

Varun hit back at his cousin saying she had crossed the lines of decency, television channels reported.

Priyanka's comments come amid persistent calls from Congress elders that she play a greater role in reviving the fortunes of the 129-year-old party that an opinion poll suggested on Monday was set for a spectacular defeat.