| Priyanka: New role'
New Delhi, May 27: If the party is for Rahul Gandhi, the family trusts are headed Priyanka’s way.
Top of the list is the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, the family’s favourite trust that often makes news for the wrong reasons.
Set up in 1991 under Sonia Gandhi, the foundation was supposed to act as a think-tank and provide research inputs for policy formulation. It recently courted controversy when its report ranked Narendra Modi’s Gujarat as the “number one and most peaceful state for business” ahead of Maharashtra and Karnataka, other investment destinations ruled by the Congress.
The report putting Gujarat at the top of the economic freedom index was prepared by the foundation’s institute of contemporary studies. Modi, a known Sonia baiter, has been quoting the report in Mumbai, Indore and Ahmedabad, “thanking Soniaben for bringing out the truth”.
Highly embarrassing though that is, the report went out unchecked as Sonia has little or no time to monitor the foundation’s activities. It has been years since she last visited its office at Jawahar Bhavan, barely a kilometre from her 10 Janpath residence.
It has an impressive list of trustees like Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, M.S. Swaminathan (agricultural scientist), Suman Dubey (journalist and a family friend), Y.K. Alagh (academic) and R.P. Goenka (industrialist) in addition to Rahul and Priyanka.
In recent years, the foundation has curtailed its activities, such as its innovative hospital-on-wheels, a train that used to stop at stations in rural areas providing free medical care to those unable to travel long distances.
Sources said the foundation started suffering since Sonia joined politics in 1998. By 2001, it began to lose the glamour it earlier had. Between 1992 and 2001, it had hosted several international leaders and luminaries such as Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Edward Said (historian, now dead), Nelson Mandela, Amartya Sen, Mahboob-ul-Haque (Pakistani economist) and J.K. Galbraith (economist and former US ambassador to India).
The sources said the offices of the Congress chief and the chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance and National Advisory Council made heavy demands on Sonia’s time but the foundation remained close to her heart.
With workload steadily rising, Sonia recently asked Priyanka to devote some time to the foundation. Foundation sources said once Priyanka took over, the think-tank would get back its lost glory.
Apart from the foundation, there are a number of family trusts ' the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Trust, Kamala Nehru Trust and Jawahar Bhavan Trust ' that are facing neglect. Since all of them are headed by Sonia, there is speculation that Priyanka would gradually take her position.
The trusts in the names of Sanjay Gandhi and Kamala Nehru are in a mess, organisationally and financially. Unlike the plush foundation building, the Sanjay Gandhi Trust functions from a six-by-nine outhouse at 24 Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters.