When my father was killed, I was furious with the whole world: Priyanka

Updated on Apr 25, 2009 03:12 AM IST

Priyanka Gandhi tells Barkha Dutt how she really felt about her father's assassination. Read the full interview as for the first time Priyanka reveals that for many years of her life, she was sure that politics was “absolutely what she wanted to.”Pics: Priyanka Gandhi on campaign trail

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The media has one persistent question for Priyanka Gandhi. Will she join politics? Her answer, so far, has remained a steadfast ‘no’. But now, for the first time, Priyanka Gandhi, the charismatic campaigner for the Congress in Amethi and Rae Bareli, reveals that for many years of her life, she was sure that politics was “absolutely what she wanted to.”

Priyanka, I know you’ve been asked whether you will join politics a million times. We know you’ve said you don’t want to be in politics, but you’ve never said why you don’t want to be in politics.

Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve figured out why myself. But I’m very clear I don’t want to be in politics, I’m very happy living my life the way I am. I think there are certain aspects of politics which I’m just not suited to.

You’re saying that from experience?

Yes, from having seen a lot of it. I mean, there was a time when I was a kid, when I was about 16-17 when I thought this is absolutely what I want to do with my life.

Really, you were excited by it?

Yes, but I think I wasn’t very clear about my own identity.

When was that moment that you knew for sure that you would never be in this profession?

In 1999. Because in that election it was a question in my mind, whether I would want to stand for elections or not. So I did some thinking, and I realised I didn’t.

And since you identify it as a definitive moment, what was that moment for you?

Actually, I went for Vipassana meditation. I was so troubled by the fact that I didn’t know my mind, I just disappeared and went for 10 days of meditation, to better know my own mind, rather than what other people want of me.

Did something happen that made you take such a decision?

No, just introspection.

Ok, now the assumption from afar is that Priyanka Gandhi does not want to be in politics because right now she is devoting all her time to her family, to her kids. So then the next question becomes, when the children grow up, maybe then, will her decision change?

This question for me has existed since I was 14 years old. When I first came to campaign here, even, these things were said about me — that I would be suited to politics, and that I looked like my grandmother and I am like my grandmother. And I have to say that I think, because you are asking me, what really was the definitive thing, I think it was a growing up thing, rather than an epiphany.

It wasn’t a specific event?

I grew into myself. Earlier my own identity was a bit confused, because I did idealise my grandmother, I grew up in a household where she was the head and she was an extremely powerful woman. Not only politically powerful, but she was a powerful human being to be around. So being a little girl and seeing this woman who was strong and stood for so much, it did have an effect on me. So I think my own identity was confused until a certain point and when I discovered that — ‘Hey, Priyanka is actually this’ — then I realised that this is not for me.

But, what is the definition of not being in politics? For example, it’s quite well known that when the family takes decisions, you’re part of those decisions and sometimes they are political decisions. So, would you at least say that you’re in politics to that extent that politics is part of your life?

Yes, to that extent, absolutely. I belong to a family where most members of the family are in politics — they have been. I’ve grown up in that atmosphere. I mean I’ve grown up in an atmosphere where at the dining table you discussed big political issues. Right from when you were a kid. So obviously to that extent I am. And whenever my help is required by mother, by my brother, for small things generally, not big things, like I wrote all my mother’s speeches in her first campaign…

And now?

No, no, now I don’t.


Very rarely. If I’m passing by and I see something’s being written then my advice is asked for, but otherwise very rarely.

She’s also much more comfortable in a sense?

Absolutely, completely, comfortable and doesn’t require any tutoring, prepping, nothing. And she’s comfortable being herself, now. Because she was very shy, so that was hard in the beginning.

You’re always described as the more gregarious person... Whereas both your mother and Rahul are seen as much more reticent, more shy. Would that be correct?

My mother is shy. Rahul is … I’m much more a recluse than Rahul is.

It doesn’t come across that way…

Personally, I’m a complete recluse. I’m OK in this situation and I sort of think that I’m doing a job here. I’m doing my duty here and this is part of the job that I’m doing.

You don’t like people?

No, it’s not that I don’t like people, I like people, but I spend most of my time on my own.

You were talking about watching your mother change and evolve, you used that word. How have you seen her change over the years?

Well, in the beginning, as I said, she wanted to have nothing to do with politics. And people ask why did she enter politics and all, and she explained it in one simple sentence — I can’t look at these photos in this room if I don’t do this. These were the photographs of my father and my grandmother. Because she really did it out of a sense of duty and she went completely against her grain to do this. She was shy, it was hard for her, public speaking was very difficult for her and both of us had to really be there for moral support, for everything. And now she’s completely on her own. She’s comfortable … so that’s the evolution.

And do you feel proud of that?

I’m extremely proud of my mother, I can’t tell you how much. If there’s one woman I admire in the world, it’s my mother. Because I’ve seen what it’s taken for her to do it. And when I say I wouldn’t do it out of a sense of duty, it’s that I wouldn’t have that courage to go completely against my grain because I felt it was my duty to some ideal or to my family ... deep down somewhere, I feel that she has gone against her grain in a sense. I mean, of course, the fact that duty was such a powerful pull, also means that is part of her. So that is very much who she is, but deep down I see my mother as retiring in a forest cottage in the hills, reading, gardening — she loves that stuff. So as a daughter sometimes I feel, why not?

You think that will happen?

I hope so. I’m building a little cottage in Shimla, hopefully she’ll use it.

Who’s taken after your grandmother in the family?

My brother ... she had this bond with him. And she taught him and she spent a lot of time with him, talking to him. Even the morning that she passed away. And I think that Rahul has imbibed a lot of that and his thinking, in many ways, is a lot like my father, because he is a visionary like that. He’s an institution builder like my father was, but it’s a good mix. Because his understanding of politics is really very good. Much better than he is given credit for. And that I think comes from my grandmother.

I wanted to ask you, how many years did you live with thinking that maybe you wanted to meet Nalini before it happened?

Not very long actually. Maybe a year and a half or so. In the beginning when my father was killed, I didn’t realise it, but I was furious. I was absolutely furious inside. I was furious not with particular individuals who killed him, but I was furious with the whole world.

When did you learn to recognise that rage?

It was a very slow process . It was realising that you’re angry… I think the whole thing about this whole business of forgiveness is really, at some level, we all consider ourselves victims. Maybe it can be a case of someone being nasty to us, or someone would have done something like kill someone we love, which is a bigger thing and then we consider ourselves victims. But the minute you realise that you’re not a victim and that the other person is as much victim of that same circumstance as you, then you can’t put yourself in a position where you are anyone to forgive someone else. Because your victimhood has disappeared. And to me, people ask about non-violence, I think true non-violence is the absence of victimhood.

Do you feel scared for your brother, your mother, yourself?

No, I don’t. I don’t feel scared for them at all... But I did have this one moment of terror in 2004 when I peeped into her office and I saw this bunch of, you know, Lalu ji and everybody surrounding her and saying that you have to be Prime Minister, I had this one moment of complete terror. And I burst out crying...

What about the charges of dynastic inheritance?

I don’t buy that. Because, you know, I would buy it if there weren’t elections every five years where we were elected by people. People ask me here, in Amethi, how come you’re getting elected every time? It’s certainly not just because he’s a Gandhi. It is because that name and that family stands for something that has been done here, people have seen work. People have seen commitment, people have seen honesty and therefore they support. So I don’t buy that.

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    Barkha Dutt is consulting editor, NDTV, and founding member, Ideas Collective. She tweets as @BDUTT.

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