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From page three parties to front page politics

CROSSING THE LAKSHMAN REKHA: For Robert Vadra — seen here with Priyanka Gandhi waiting to cast their votes in the Delhi State Assembly elections in 2008 — the prospect of joining politics has been a constant temptation.
In October 2010, the country's best known son-in-law, Robert Vadra, triggered off speculation when he told The Times of India that he could win an election from anywhere: “I can definitely win (an election) from anywhere but I am a businessman. Why politics? I should be known for what I am,” he had said, continuing, “There is a time and place for everything. If I feel that I know enough about this line (politics), if I can dedicate enough time and effort to it, when my children are grown up and if I can make a difference, then why not?”
At the time, Congressmen had dismissed the interview, saying it was “unauthorised” by the Family.
More than a year later, on Monday (February 6), when wife Priyanka Gandhi remained immersed hustling votes for the Congress in the family pocket borough of Rae Bareli and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, Robert created a stir again as he led a motorcycle rally through Salon, one of the assembly segments, even addressing a press conference, accompanied by young daughter Miraya. His campaigning in the area would have raised few eyebrows, had he followed his past practice of accompanying Priyanka and brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi, and staying in the background. But on this occasion, he ventured out alone, hitting the headlines for violating the Election Commission's rule on number of vehicles permitted.
Equally significant, he once again hinted at the possibility of his joining politics. “If people want,” he told journalists at an informal press conference at the home of a local Congressman, “then I can come into politics.” On whether Priyanka was contemplating entering politics, he blithely responded: “This is the time of Rahul Gandhi, after that the time of Priyanka Gandhi will come in the future, and also of other family members.”

A Congress worker present at the press conference told The Hindu telephonically that not too much should be read into Robert's statement, stressing, “Within an hour, Priyankaji uska khandan kar diya (she refuted the statement).” Indeed, she suggested that the journalists had “misquoted” her husband: “You must have asked him a twisted question and then misinterpreted the answer. Robertji is very happy and satisfied doing his business,” she said.
In Delhi, while official spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi said he was unaware of what had transpired, a Congress functionary sought to downplay the episode: “He's just a businessman; he doesn't understand the implications of what he said. He was asked a loaded question and he fell into the trap.” He also stressed that any decision relating to the possibility of an active political career for any member of the Gandhi family would be decided collectively by Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her children, Rahul and Priyanka: thus far, he said, there had been no indication that Robert “was about to join the family business.” He admitted that the episode — both the flashy motorcycle rally and the articulation of personal ambition — had “embarrassed the family.”
His rise
In the 2010 interview, Robert had even revealed that he had been under great pressure to contest from U.P.'s Sultanpur Lok Sabha seat — adjoining Rae Bareli and Amethi — in 2009, but that he had refused. Congress sources told The Hindu that the Pradesh Congress Committee at that time had suggested three names — Robert, Priyanka and family friend Captain Satish Sharma. “Robert's name was shot down immediately,” these sources said. Eventually the ticket went to Sanjay Singh, who won the seat.
Evidently, for Robert Vadra, son of a brassware businessman from Moradabad, Rajinder Vadra, the prospect of joining politics has been a constant temptation ever since he married into the country's most famous political family. Of course, meanwhile, in his own line — business — he has prospered. Last March, the Economic Times had reported on his “quiet and unheralded entry” into the real estate business. According to the paper, Robert, who had started out in with jewellery and handicrafts exports had, since 2008, diversified, acquiring tracts of land in Haryana and Rajasthan, a 50 per cent stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting an entry into the business of chartering aircraft. Given the secrecy with which all activities of the family are shrouded, this report was quite a revelation but not much more has been heard since.
Even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), usually quick to attack the Gandhi family, desisted: political sources said that party did not want to risk a counter-attack on Ranjan Bhattacharya, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's “adopted” son-in-law, who went rapidly from failed hotelier to successful businessman during the six-year rule of the National Democratic Alliance.

In the news
In the years he has been married to Priyanka, he has hit page three far more than page one. A fitness freak, he shares a passion for expensive motorcycles with Rahul, and is frequently spotted at celebrity-dos. A designer who has met him said, “Well, he's polite and well-behaved, but clearly likes the good things of life. He's often alone — I guess security issues keep Priyanka away.” For those taken aback by the marriage, when it first took place, Priyanka provided an answer in an interview to Outlook a few years ago. “I met him when I was 13. He never treated me different: Robert treated me just like anybody else when I first met him. I liked that.” Of course, Robert has always sought to distance his business activities from that of the Gandhi family: “I don't interfere in his (Rahul's) politics and he doesn't interfere in my business,” he had said in his 2010 interview. “I don't tell him who to include in his team and he doesn't tell me who to hire. I know my business and he knows his.”
Has he crossed that Lakshman Rekha this time?

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