TIME India

Priyanka Gandhi Takes Center Stage in Latest Congress-BJP Spat

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during a road-show campaign for her mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in Raebareli, India, on April 23, 2014
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra during a road-show campaign for her mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, in Raebareli, India, on April 23, 2014 Sunit Kumar—Hindustan Times/Getty Images

With less than three weeks to go until the national elections end, the formidable campaigner has been drawn into the spotlight by opposition claims about her husband's business dealings

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra found herself in the eye of India’s latest political storm Monday, as the country’s national elections enter their final few weeks.

Priyanka has played a more behind-the-scenes role on India’s political stage of late, choosing to lend her respected campaigning skills to the political careers of her brother, Congress Party vice president Rahul Gandhi, and her mother, Sonia, the party’s president. But since Priyanka jumped into the fray last week to defend her businessman husband from attacks by the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), she has found herself front and center of an intensifying Congress-BJP smackdown.

The opposition has been alleging wrongdoing in Robert Vadra’s business practices for some time, but the BJP has recently sharpened its attack. Earlier this month, local media reported a senior BJP leader threatening to jail the entrepreneur if the opposition were to come to power. Priyanka broke her silence on the matter last week in an appeal to voters, saying her husband has been used in political attacks and that she was “deeply saddened” by the way that campaigns are being run this election cycle.

The opposition did not let the matter rest. On Sunday, the party released a pamphlet and video alleging that Priyanka’s husband used his connections to the Gandhi family to make money in various land deals. Dubbing it the “Vadra ‘get-rich-quick’ model,” the document calls Congress-led state governments “vassals” of the Gandhi-Vadra family, and demands that Sonia and Rahul “come clean” on their in-law’s business transactions.

Congress has called the allegations baseless, and Priyanka again shot back, comparing the opposition to rats scurrying around in a panic. The BJP’s senior leader Arun Jaitley responded by writing on his blog that her language had “lowered the quality of political discourse” in India.

Few would argue any of this marks a high point in political discourse. The question is: What might it mean for the elections? To some, the spectacle of Priyanka going head-to-head with the BJP over her husband’s record seems like the death rattle of Congress’ mismanaged campaign. Hasan Suroor argues on Firstpost.com that by letting a strong campaigner like Priyanka loose on the issue, the party has “allowed the BJP to make Robert Vadra the symbol of all Gandhi family misdoing.”

But nobody’s coming out of the spat looking great. One might assume that the BJP, whose leaders say they are confident of a big win come May 16, would be spending their time on loftier campaigning points days before their prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi stands for election in the hot spot of Varanasi. Some argue the BJP’s outsize response highlights the fact that Priyanka has put the opposition on the defensive. In any case, the accusations feel like another tired swing in an old grudge match. For a party that has been promising change, the BJP’s tactics at this stage seem to belie either insecurity or an internal unwillingness to focus on meatier election issues. Neither is a comforting prospect.

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