Is Varun Gandhi’s Lineage Behind His Increasing Rift With BJP?

Even as the election fever in Uttar Pradesh continues to mount, the Sultanpur MP has gone missing from the BJP’s list of star campaigners.


Varun Gandhi. Credit: Reuters

Uttar Pradesh: As the assembly election in Uttar Pradesh enters its fifth phase, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Varun Gandhi will be missing from his party’s electoral campaign in his own constituency of Sultanpur. It seems the firebrand leader’s remarks at a programme in Indore have not gone down too well with the top leadership.

Speaking at an event, the BJP MP alleged that his party had failed to address the development of minorities. He even raised the issue of Rohith Vemula’s suicide and remarked that he was moved to tears after reading Vemula’s suicide note.

Concerning the issue of farmer suicide, he alleged discrimination in debt recovery. The rich are given concessions while the poor are killing themselves, he said.

After his comments at a programme in a private college in Indore on Tuesday came to light, many took to Twitter to quip whether he had mistakenly read his cousin Rahul Gandhi’s speech.

More importantly, his name was struck out of the party’s star campaigners list soon after the speech was made.

The recent developments point to the widening gap between the young Gandhi scion and the BJP. After initially being dropped out of the list of star campaigners in UP, the party had included him in the second list, placing him on the 39th position out of 40. Earlier, he had been removed from the post of national general secretary.

Experts believe that Varun could have been projected as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh but for his surname – a constant point of ridicule for his party.

“The BJP has opened a front against the Gandhis,” said senior journalist Rasheed Kidwai. “At some level, Varun Gandhi considers himself more than an MP being the grandson of Indira Gandhi. His surname is very important to him which is the main source of conflict between him and the party.”

“Actually, the BJP is going through a contradictory phase,” he adds. “On the one hand, it claims to be against dynastic politics and keeps targeting the Nehru-Gandhi clan, but on the other, within its own ranks it practices such politics. Even Varun Gandhi has no problem with his surname. Though the BJP blames Nehru and Indira Gandhi for all ills that afflict the country, Varun clearly takes pride in his legacy.”

Born in 1980, Varun began learning the ABCs of politics at an early age. He was seen campaigning alongside his mother, Maneka Gandhi, in the Lok Sabha elections of 1999.

In 2004, he joined the BJP and five years later, amidst a hate-speech controversy that put him in the limelight, he was elected an MP from Pilibhit constituency.

“Varun Gandhi’s expectation of a specific treatment because of his surname stands in his way,” said senior journalist Pradeep Singh. “The BJP made him the general secretary at a very young age. He has been making anti-party remarks of which there is a long list. In 2013, Gandhi was made in-charge of BJP’s affairs in West Bengal. Then PM candidate, Narendra Modi, was to address a rally at Kolkata’s parade ground which Gandhi was managing. Despite the rally being a relative success, Gandhi informed the media that it was a failure. It sowed the seeds of rift.”

“In 2014, Gandhi contested from Sultanpur and took with him his team of workers from Pilibhit, sidelining local leadership. Also, he did not allow any BJP leader to hold a rally in his constituency. During one of his rallies, he even rebuked the crowd for chanting ‘Modi,Modi’. Later, when Amit Shah became the BJP president, Gandhi was removed from his post of general secretary. This was followed by Maneka Gandhi’s statement claiming that Varun Gandhi was the most suitable candidate for the post of CM in UP. She was told not to make such remarks. However, ahead of BJP’s executive meet in Allahabad, Varun Gandhi’s face could be seen on posters and hoardings installed across the city. He has been shown the door ever since.”

The BJP MP once again came under fire after a whistleblower alleged in a letter to the PMO that Varun Gandhi had been “honey-trapped and compromised” into leaking crucial defence information to an arms dealer. Varun denied the charges.

“His identity as a Gandhi could have been his strength, had he been tactful,” said senior journalist Ram Bahadur Rai. “But he turned it into a weakness. Each party has its own temperament. Pride and ambition have become part of Varun’s personality and he cannot fit into the BJP presently. When he entered the party, Pramod Mahajan was his godfather. Everything was fine as long as he was there. Now, Varun ambitiously expects the BJP to carry him on its shoulders and declare him the CM candidate which is not possible.”

Political analysts believe that in a party which aims for a Congress-mukt India, Varun has no future. The Sangh is the prominent force in the BJP at present and Varun does not have a Sangh background. He is a free-thinking individual which is a problem.

“Ever since Modi came to power, it has become clear that the surname is not acceptable to the new BJP,” observed senior journalist Ajoy Bose. “The name which was an ‘asset’ when he was initiated into the party, has now become a ‘liability’. Besides, Varun is a free mind which may be a problem for some people. Also, he probably does not want the party to have another power centre.”

Varun’s future in the party seems to be looming in the dark as long as Shah and Modi hold the reins. So, what will his strategy be?

“The dilemma before Varun is that in the legacy of a long-standing feud between his mother Maneka Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi, he is faced with Rahul Gandhi,” said Kidwai. “It is not likely that he will join the Congress. He cannot join other minor parties. Whatever be the current situation in the BJP, Varun will continue to be in the party.”

However, Pradeep Singh said, “I believe that the BJP will not give Varun a ticket in 2019. Varun knows it. But the possibility of Varun joining the Congress is very weak. When Sonia Gandhi is not allowing her own daughter to emerge as a leader, chances are very limited for Varun.”

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman.

This article originally appeared in The Wire Hindi.

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