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Saffron Burden - India Today

Harinder Baweja ()
March 30, 1998

Title: Saffron Burden
Author: Harinder Baweja
Publication: India Today
Date: March 30, 1998

The saraswati vandana rings out twice a day. At 9.30 a.m. and at
sunset when children-aged between four and 14 gather on the lawns
of the Sanjay Manu Vadera Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandir in
Moradabad. The school is 160 km from the Delhi border or a little
over that from 10 janpath where Sonia Gandhi, the samdhan of the
Vaderas, who own the RSS-run school, resides.

It's about the same distance from 24 Akbar Road, the headquarters
of the Congress, which Sonia took under her charge after having
failed in her whirlwind efforts to keep the BJP from occupying
South Block. And all along-through 138 public meetings-as Sonia
accused the BJP of being 11 spurred by religious fundamentalism"
and "dividing the country on communal grounds", the vandana rang
out in Moradabad and the children along with their teachers kept
chanting, "We are Hindus till our last breath".

The Vadera school has been instilling Hindutva fervour in its
teachers, all of whom are RSS pracharaks, and its students since
it was set up three years ago. Well before family boy Robert
married Priyanka in February last year. Interestingly, the
Intelligence Bureau had conducted a full inquiry into the
Vaderas' background before the wedding but it was not until
recent revelations that tensions surfaced in the two families.

Embarrassed by the disclosures, Priyanka broke away from the
Nehru Gandhi tradition of not taking the printed word seriously
and retorted with a hard-hitting statement. "I rind the ideology
of the RSS and the Sangh Parivar anathema to all I believe in and
I would not associate with it or with institutions which
propagate it regardless of who owns or sponsors them.

The Vaderas are not apologetic about having the RSS in their
backyard though. Says Om Prakash Vadera, Robert's eldest paternal
uncle: "Sonia was very angry and Priyanka cried like anything."
His telephone in Moradabad wouldn't stop ringing as he was
inundated with calls from Robert's father Rajinder and his own
daughter Anita Sud. "It embarrassed the Gandhis because the
revelation came just before Sonia was to take over as Congress
president, "says Om Prakash. "But everyone is entitled to their
beliefs. I handed over the school to the RSS because they are the
only ones with the experience to run schools professionally."

One of five brothers, Rajinder, who is also a liberal donor to
the school, refuses to be drawn into the controversy. In fact,
he has maintained a distance from the media ever since an
interview last year when he said he would not like to see his
daughter-in-law in politics. Robert's brother Richard too has
shied away from the press. This, says a family member, is because
some of his earlier statements were construed as being aimed at
creating rivalry between Priyanka and her brother Rahul. While
predicting a bright Political future for Priyanka, Richard had
said that Rahul preferred to remain abroad.

The Sonia-Priyanka dominance, however, stops at the gates of
Robert's parents home in Delhi's New Friends Colony. The RSS
management of the Moradabad school, on its part, has been
oblivious to the new connection. It agreed to name the school
after Om Prakash's two sons, Sanjay and Manu, who were killed in
separate road accidents in 1982 and 1988. As far as Om Prakash is
concerned, keeping his sons' memory alive is the main concern,
even if it means embarrassing the Gandhis. At times he is even
present when the RSS shakhas are in session. "I have nothing
left," says the elder Vadera, whose wife Pushpa died of brain
tumour two years ago. Since then, he has also donated a part of
the farmhouse, which boasts of a private swimming pool, to the

For Om Prakash, it's a question of continuing with their social
service. Besides the school, they have donated a medical
dispensary to the Vivekanand Charitable Trust, which is also on
the same premises as the school. The trust also runs a heart
research centre, which Om Prakash started along with seven
others. He recalls that getting land for the centre was no
problem as N.D. Tiwari was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh
when it was acquired. "Rajiv Gandhi helped us, " says Om Prakash,
who is a regular contributor to the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
"I send out a cheque for Rs. 51,000 every year irrespective of
who the prime minister is."

Life in Moradabad, the family home of the Vaderas since 1956, has
been the same even after the Gandhi connection. That Priyanka has
never visited Moradabad has been a sore point with some family
members. Even when Om Prakash planned a reception at the
farmhouse after the wedding, Priyanka and Robert "could not make
it". Later, he invited the couple and Sonia to dinner but it was
clear that they wanted the meeting elsewhere. The dinner finally
materialised at Bukhara in Delhi's Maurya Sheraton, which,
incidentally, Sonia and Rajiv frequented.

Earlier too Moradabad held little attraction for Robert or his
father Of the five brothers-all dealing with exports of brass and
silverware only Om Prakash has stayed on in the family house. The
rest have moved out. Says Captain Ved Vadera, the youngest, a
former Air Force officer now flying with jet Airways: "Moradabad
didn't offer much in terms of education and Delhi is the hub for

It was education in Delhi that brought Robert and Priyanka
together. The two first met as students of British School, The
childhood friendship continued even after Priyanka forced to give
up regular school following Indira Gandhi's assassination. t
finally blossomed into marriage.

It's been a little over a year since they were married and
Robert, who has a heavy security cover, seldom finds time to
visit his family members. The visits may become even rarer now
that the Gandhis are formally in politics.

Om Prakash has no intention of having the school change hands or
bringing a halt to the shakhas. So it will be Sonia holding
public darbars at 10 janpath and chairing meetings at 24 Akbar
Road with the RSS school master Subodh Kumar Sharma in Moradabad
saying: "Muslim students are welcome to join but they must forget
they are Muslims." The slogans are different and so is the
vandana. Yet, somewhere in between, the two planes have met. And
not without its share of problems.

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