In the heat of election campaigning in Uttar Pradesh, the formal introduction of another member of the Nehru-Gandhi family, Avantika Nehru, went largely unnoticed.
Congress’ political arithmetic notwithstanding, Avantika Nehru’s political foray is significant in another way as it marked the end of a bitter family feud triggered three decades ago when Arun Nehru, a cousin of Rajiv Gandhi, rebelled and left the Congress.
But all that is history now. The hatchet was buried this week at an election meeting in Rae Bareli when Congress general secretary for UP East Priyanka Gandhi introduced Avantika Nehru to her mother’s constituency.
“Avantika Nehru is my sister and the daughter of former MP, the late Arun Nehru,” Priyanka Gandhi said at the election meeting in Sareni.
In the general election of 1980, Indira Gandhi won from two constituencies, Medak in Andhra Pradesh and Rae Bareli in UP. At the time, she took the decision of vacating Medak for her nephew Arun Nehru, who was a successful corporate executive, and decided to contest from the UP seat.
After Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Arun Nehru went on to become the internal security minister under the Rajiv Gandhi-led government. However, the bonhomie between Rajiv Gandhi and Nehru ended after the Bofors scandal, which tarnished the image of the Congress government.
After the fallout, Nehru joined hands with VP Singh and the Congress lost power in 1989. In 1999 Lok Sabha polls, Nehru was fielded by the BJP against Gandhi family loyalist Satish Sharma.
It was a speech delivered by Priyanka Gandhi, who canvassed for votes for the party during the election, which is said to have turned the tables in Sharma’s favour. In a scathing attack on Nehru, she said: “I have a complaint against you. A man who committed treachery while he was in my father’s ministry, who stabbed a brother in the back — answer me — how did you let such a man in here? How did he dare come here?”
Arun Nehru lost the elections to Sharma, who later vacated the seat for Sonia Gandhi. Years later, the two families did reconcile. When Arun Nehru was admitted to a Gurgaon hospital in 2013, the Gandhis visited him. When he passed away, his pyre was lit by Priyanka Gandhi’s son Rehan.
Coming full circle, it was a déjà vu of sorts when Priyanka Gandhi introduced Arun Nehru’s daughter in the election meeting of Rae Bareli.
BJP has fielded former Congress MLA Dinesh Singh against Sonia Gandhi. Not long back, Singh was a close associate of Priyanka Gandhi, but defected to the saffron fold last year.
In Rae Bareli, Priyanka Gandhi said, “People who touched my feet and said Didi we will always stand by your side, are contesting against my mother today.” One can’t help but reminisce her famous speech of 1999 that turned the fortunes of Arun Nehru.