In the political parlour, Feroze Gandhi is considered the forgotten Gandhi, who was undoubtedly a brilliant politician, a predominant fighter figure and ultimately left out of the Nehru-Gandhi aureole.
Incidentally Varun Gandhi is named after his Grandfather, as Feroze Varun Gandhi. He is the only person from the family who uses the Feroze patronym. And despite being largely overlooked by the press and political circles, except that over-circulated ‘hate speech’ episode, Varun is a diligent worker, a person with limited exposure but with ardent assignments. This 34 year estranged scion of the so called Nehru- Gandhi dynasty, is the candidate from Sulatanpur, a Parliamentary constituency just 35 kilometres away from the much hyped and much publicised constituency of his celebrated cousin, Rahul Gandhi.
How can Omar threaten that the #AfzalGuru hanging will revive Kashmiri militancy? Indian state will not be held to ransom.
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) September 28, 2011
But by nature and nurturing, the two cousins are poles apart!
In 2009, Varun had won the Pilibhit constituency—perceived Muslim dominated one, by a huge margin of about 290,000 votes. It had been retained by his mother Maneka Gandhi five times since 1989. Here, the Neoriya Hussainpur town, on the Pilibhit-Almora highway, has a 90 percent Muslim population. Surprisingly Maneka always got the majority of their votes!
From that place, Haiji Riyaz, an MLA, was contesting on the Samwajwadi Party ticket against Varun. Despite a big hullabaloo created in the Media, about Varun’s so called ‘Hate Speech’ and Mayawati Government’s utmost attempt to garnish Muslim votes in favour of BSP candidate (Akbar Ahmed Dumpy a popular Pilibhit local is with the BSP), but as Pilibhit has a sizable Lodh population, BSP gave the ticket to a Lodh candidate (Ganga Charan), saw harshest allegations against Varun, to put him behind bars.
Varun won both, the case and the seat.
This time the party fielded him in Sultanpur, in Eastern Uttar Pradesh, a terrain that is not a BJP constituency,traditionally. But Varun is an astute politician, knows how to turn obstacles into opportunity. The Pilibhit constituency was known to him due to his mother. He knew virtually every constituency segment, many villages and the pockets of influence thoroughly. He had elaborate homework of caste and religious combinations of his constituency.
In Sultanpur, he has tried to invoke the dream of his departed father, Sanjay Gandhi, who once represented this constituency. Three and half decades back. He simply left the comfort of Pilibhit, someway a pocket borough of his mother for two decades, to establish his own footprint at Sultanpur, which despite being the neighbour of two high profile constituencies, Amethi and Raebareli, been utterly neglected in the last two decades or more. Three decades later, Varun comes back to Sultanpur to revive and reclaim his late father’s political legacy.In this minor, dusty town of Uttar Pradesh. From here, Sanjay Gandhi was catapulted into the national politics in 1970s.
When Sanjay Gandhi died in the plane crash in June, 1980, Varun was just three months’ old! Varun, whose campaigning here was a comparatively low profile and much down to earth. Sometimes two to three SUVs went crisscrossing the dusty, nondescript villages,Bankepura,Nir Sahiya, Teergaon, Parshurampur,Charolior Eklakhee.Varun himself was visiting door to door in the scorching sun, unlike his cousin Rahul Gandhi. Routinely visiting, almost 20-25 villages in a single day.He had reportedly visited over 600 of about 1,350 villages in Sultanpur, in one and half a month. During Sanjay’s time, in 1980, Amethi was part of Sultanpur.
On His Own
On his very first interaction with the people in this constituency, Varun introduced himself as Sanjay Gandhi’s son, and reminded the people of some “padyatra” his father had conducted here after he won his election,and of a sugar mill he had set up within a few months. On occasions, Varun voiced it openly that he felt emotionally connected to Sultanpur.
“Sometimes I meet people who say they had met and garlanded my father,” remembered an emotionally elated Varun. Though it was continuously represented by Congress and the Royal family of Amethi,(Mohammad Tahir Khan of Samajwadi Party got elected in 2004) it has remained practically neglected since the days Sanjay Gandhi,. It was Sanjay, who had helped to establish sugar mills here before he died, 34 years ago. Besides that, there haven’t been any big industries around, in all these years! During his month and a half long intensive campaign in the constituency, Varun assured the people of rapid development, alleviation of poverty, seek love as a son or as a brother and reminding them about the initiatives taken by his late father and vowing to accomplish them.
In Varun’s constituency, invoking Narendra Modi’s name was obviously not a necessity. In his speeches Varun hardly talked about the Gujarat model. When most of the party workers in Sultanpur left to attend the 5 May rally of Narendra Modi in Amethi, Varun Gandhi left himself aside and continued with campaigning in the far stretched villages.
The Party-man With A Difference
While camping in Sultanpur, in between his hectic campaigning, he had been reading Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities”! It’s a fascinating book about the imaginary conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo! The book points out to some valuable nuggets of policy planning, decision making and devising political strategies.
Visit to Shanti Vana to pay tribute to my father late Shri Sanjay Gandhi on his 67th birth anniversary. pic.twitter.com/qzGK7GKTWB
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) December 14, 2013
Very few people know that, Varun Gandhi is one of Delhi’s finest art collectors. He has in his collection the rare originals of Rabindranath Tagore, Jogen Chowdhury, M F Hussain and Ganesh Pyne! He clearly inherited the practice from his parents. Reading habits are obviously from his mother. He is also one of the very few MPs who spent the entire MPLADS fund before the stipulated time.
When the politicians of all hues were criticising Anna Hazare on his movement for the Lokpal Bill, inside and outside the Parliament, Varun as an MP had offered his residence to Hazare and proposed to table the Lokpal Bill as a Private Member Bill when Hazare was arrested. It was not an ordinary gesture. He writes regularly for different publications and years back, at the age of 20, has compiled a book of his poems, with illustrations from known painters like Anjali Ela Menon, Manu Parekhand Manjit Bawa! Here he stands apart from his counterparts, the Gandhis in the Congress side.
Looking At The Future
The way Varun Gandhi rose almost silently within BJP to become one of the youngest General Secretaries and then the in–charge of a difficult State West Bengal, many vouch for the fact that, he is now the most prominent Hindutava or Nationalist symbol after Narendra Modi. The way he has been able to build up a visible BJP presence in West Bengal, which is quite active during 2014 elections, many party insiders now saying that he now needs to play a bigger role in the party– and can act in future a possible challenge for his political rival and cousin Rahul Gandhi. On May day last year, long before the 2014 General Elections were announced, the BJP Chief Rajnath Singh projected Varun, as the party’s face in Uttar Pradesh, while addressing a big rally at Bareilly.
My article on AAP in The Indian Express today. http://t.co/iA0qznGgpF
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) January 6, 2014
Incidentally, it was Rajnath Singh’s second public meeting in his home State, Uttar Pradesh, after he took over as the Party Chief in December, 2012. Beginning BJP’s poll effort in UP well in advance, Rajnath Singh planned to revive and re-establish the party in the crucial State, putting the message loud and clear that the future of the country, as well as the party depends heavily on the younger generation. In his nearly 40 minute address, Singh, emphasised on the revival plan by declaring that: “The future of this country remains in the hands of the youth… only they can pull the country out of its present crisis. That is why I have made Varun a General Secretary in our team… something that I wanted to do in my last tenure, but he was too young then and so I have done it now.”
My mother’s first ever campaign for me. pic.twitter.com/zRkWVOQTgN
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) May 4, 2014
Varun reciprocated by saying: “Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji brought me into politics… Rajnath ji is someone in whom I have seen the reflection of him (Vajpayee), he is the man who is able to take along with him people from all castes and religious communities.” Strategically, Varun was taken out of Pilibhit, shortly after the Court absolved him of the much publicised ‘Hate Speech’ charges. Dharmendra Kashyap, who came from the SP to BJP, was projected BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate from Aonla constituency, replacing Varun’s mother Maneka Gandhi, who was moved back to Pilibhit.
Varun was placed to contest from Sultanpur, in eastern UP, neighbouring Amethi and Rae Bareli, represented in the Parliament by his estranged cousin Rahul Gandhi and his aunt, Congress President Sonia Gandhi. Shortly after, Varun shared dais along with the former BJP president Nitin Gadkari in a big rally in Sultanpur, on May 16. Where, Varun had vehemently criticised the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s and his Government.
Since then, Varun has come a long way. People of Sultanpurare now fed up with the inaction of the present representative and sheer lack of development. They simply said, the Raaja Saab (Sanjay Singh) hardly visited the constituency or bothered about them. Whereas Varun, in the last one and half months went to rural campaigning, at almost 600 villages. Heard their problems and assured for change. He praised Rahul’s work at neighbouring Amethi, but explained that it was a passing appreciation at personal level. Priyanka attacked him on ideological issue, but he just tried to avoid the confrontation. He never campaigned at Amethi…and called it a tacit family decorum.
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) April 15, 2014
“I believe it is possible to be in different parties and work for India with competing visions,” he remarked. He is viewed close to Sushma Swaraj-Advani camp of BJP, a Rajnath Singh protégé. But he openly denied any political distance from Narendra Modi, BJP’s PM candidate. In February this year there was a controversy on his remarks about Narendra Modi’s Kolkata rally at Brigade Parade Ground, which was protested by the local leaders, including the State BJP President Rahul Sinha and the former State President Tathagata Roy. On the contrary, Varun says that continuous wrong propaganda has always tried to dent his image- be it the ‘Hate Speech’ episode or his distancing from Mr. Narendra Modi.
“I have mentioned Modi ji’s name plenty of time in my speeches. For that matter, how many times have you heard me invoke Sanjay Gandhi or even the Gandhi’s name?” he asked.
On that very question, why Modi had campaigned for Smriti Irani and not for him, he just clarified: “I’m one of the people in charge of organising public meetings. I knew, just why it was felt that Modiji should campaign in Amethi and not Sultanpur.”
When his mother Maneka had to leave Indira Gandhi’s residence shortly after Sanjay’s demise, Indira was reportedly averse that Varun was also left with her! There were reported attempts for rapprochements from the Gandhis’ side. But Within four years, Indira was assassinated and a new chapter began in the Gandhi family, with a reluctant Rajiv donned the mantle. Political observers say, Maneka was eyeing a prominent political role, within Congress, after Sanjay’s demise. But the fate had it otherwise. It did not happen. Maneka and his son are now in the party, which was vehemently against Sanjay Gandhi and his legacy! Varun went to 10, Janpath,to invite his aunt and the cousins with his marriage invitation, but none of the Gandhi’s attended his marriage ceremony. It was possibly not that Sonia or Rahul had anything against Varun, but it’s the displeasure of Sonia for Varun’s mother, against whom Sonia fought bitter political battles, Since Maneka’s Ministership days in the Vajpayee Government.
Village meeting in Sultanpur. Addressed 60 so far. pic.twitter.com/nq99XgFPjk
— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) March 14, 2014
Political observers had always speculated that , had the bitter rivalry between Sonia Gandhi and Maneka Gandhi had taken a backseat, Varun may have either inherited Mrs Gandhi’s political legacy now or at best shared it with his two cousins, Rahul and Priyanka. But now he is pitched against the dynasty, by a party which is dreaming big and visualising a big role for Varun too. Congress still tries to project him as someone, who is misled and failed the family! But Varun has grown bigger than the allegation, through his conviction and hard works. He has played his role perceptively and has his feet firmly in the future. The only problem seems that despite all his good vibes and sincere efforts, he gets into the news for all the wrong reasons, and here, he has an uncanny similarity with his departed father!
By Deep Basu
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