Priyanka Gandhi with Robert Vadra at ED office sends strong message to BJP, but could it force party to back off?

It was an unprecedented sight: a cavalcade of expensive SUVs, duly guarded by elite Special Protection Group (SPG) with all its paraphernalia and protocol, coming to a halt outside the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office at Jamnagar House at New Delhi's Akbar Road at 3.50 pm to drop its VVIP passenger Robert Vadra for questioning in a money laundering case. Newly-appointed Congress general secretary, and Vadra's wife, Priyanka Gandhi accompanied him to the ED office from their Lodhi Estate residence. That itself was big news for the media. The optics of Priyanka, in the back seat of the SUV chatting quietly with Vadra as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, was significant.

When Vadra got down and walked into the ED office, Priyanka remained in the car for a while. Then her cavalcade moved on to Congress headquarters at 24, Akbar Road. Her brother Congress president Rahul Gandhi had recently appointed her the Congress general secretary in-charge of the parliamentary elections in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Priyanka Gandhi with Robert Vadra at ED office sends strong message to BJP, but could it force party to back off?

Priyanka Gandhi with her husband Robert Vadra. AFP

So far, Vadra had avoided responding to ED summons and appearing before its officers on designated dates for questioning. But this time, he was left without such an option. Vadra secured an anticipatory bail from the court. While ruling that he could not be arrested till 16 February the money laundering case and for alleged wrongdoing in a deal related to a London property worth 1.9 million pounds, the court declared that Vadra had to appear before the ED for questioning on Wednesday.

This surely is not a happy occasion for the Congress first family. Thus, Priyanka standing by her man in these troubled times has its own meaning. An adverse outcome in the investigations and court ruling would spell a great deal of trouble for the Congress and Gandhi-Nehru family, but Priyanka has chosen to put on a brave front from the very beginning.

The announcement of Priyanka's appointment on 23 January (even as it was a long-pending demand of Congress workers) came as a surprise, even to senior Congress leaders. The appointment was not known to people outside family circles. It was then widely speculated in political circles that her sudden appointment was done to prevent investigative agencies from taking any coercive action against Vadra. The argument was that her appointment would act as a shield against Vadra's possible arrest, for any tough action by official agencies could give Congress ammo to accuse the Narendra Modi government of political vendetta. With parliamentary elections expected to be announced by end of this month, or first week of next month, this could potentially become a major electoral issue.

By accompanying Vadra to ED offices and thereafter going straight to Congress headquarters to assume charge of the office assigned to her, Priyanka threw her personal might — and that of the entire Congress — behind Vadra. Till recently, Congress called Vadra a "private citizen", but now, the scenario has changed. Congress sympathisers are calling it a smart move by Priyanka where, without uttering a word, she conveyed the message to the party rank and file that they should not feel shy and be on the defensive, but instead be aggressive and defend him strongly, if need be.

Priyanka stayed in the office briefly on day one, but her message had been received loud and clear. Party workers shouted slogans, "Desh ki andhi, Priyanka Gandhi." 

On Tuesday, when the "Priyanka Gandhi Vadra" name plate was affixed on the door of her office at the Congress headquarters — the room previously occupied by Rahul when he was general secretary — there were murmurs among Congress workers and sympathisers about the "Vadra" part of it. But a day later, after Priyanka's trip to ED offices, and her signal that she will stand with her husband through thick and thin, those murmurs were quietened.

A family sympathiser, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, "Priyanka has started her innings on the front foot. Please note that by doing so, she has also started her political campaign. People concerned can take whatever message they want to take."

The question now is whether Priyanka's smart move will make the BJP, which was in an aggressive frame of mind earlier on Wednesday afternoon, accusing Vadra of being a fountainhead of corrupt practices, cautious. The issue and unfolding events have added spice to the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary elections.

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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 08:40:31 IST

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