Why Varun Gandhi may have fallen out of favour
- Not in the good books of PM Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah
- Considered indisciplined, high-handed and arrogant
- Does not respect party decisions and rules
- Unpopular with colleagues and grassroots workers
- Considered extremely ambitious and brazen
- Party leaders feel he must be taught a lesson
A little over 10 years ago, Feroze Varun Gandhi, then aged 24, was inducted into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This was considered a coup. For this was the son of Sanjay Gandhi, whom the BJP had fiercely opposed during the Emergency. Not only was Varun a prize catch for being the son of a long deceased foe, he was a wicket down for the Nehru-Gandhi family. His mother Maneka Gandhi had joined the BJP before him, but nevertheless, his signing up shattered once again the public notion associating the Nehru-Gandhi family exclusively with the Congress. A Gandhi had donned saffron.
In the decade since, Varun rose to become one of the youngest general secretaries of the party. Successive party presidents displayed faith in him and entrusted him with important tasks. In fact, till quite recently, it was expected that the party would require Varun to take centrestage in Uttar Pradesh, from where he is an MP. But last week, he found himself hung out to dry. When the new BJP president Amit Shah announced his team on August 16, Varun was unceremoniously stripped of the general secretary’s post; not only that, he wasn’t assigned any important role.
The new dispensation seems in no mood to indulge his contumely and wilfulness, which had been particularly on display during the Lok Sabha election campaign. “Varun’s worst problem,” a senior party leader says, “is that he behaves as if he is above the party.” The party president, he says, is unhappy with Varun’s work and worried about his high-handedness and hauteur. What is more, Varun is now said to not connect well with people, even in his own constituency. One Union minister was heard mocking Varun’s fall with “the Gandhis might be a compulsion for the Congress, but not for the BJP”. For the record, BJP secretary Siddhartha Nath Singh does not blame anything on Varun and says, “There are many opportunities in the party and in the government. I’m sure the party will look at his calibre and locate him accordingly.”
February 2004 Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 1 September 2014
But the signs are clearly not in favour of the young man, once described as a precocious child and who once dabbled in poetry as a college student. The anti-Varun sentiment in the party is clearly a trickledown from the top. To an extent, Varun is a victim of what a party insider described as the “disdain that Narendra Modi has for anything Gandhi”. It didn’t help that Varun had steadily fouled his own chances since the beginning of the election campaign with his open display of disdain for an ascendant Modi. It was noted that not once did Varun invoke Modi’s name during his campaign in Sultanpur; his campaign material did not include Modi’s images; he did not attend any of Modi’s rallies in Uttar Pradesh; he even praised his cousin Rahul’s work in Amethi when the party had pitched its whole campaign as a Modi-versus-Rahul fight.
The worst affront Varun dealt to Modi, perhaps, was as in-charge of the party campaign in West Bengal. As the party laboured to create the impression that Modi’s rally in the state had been hugely successful and well-attended, Varun went around telling reporters there was nothing exceptional about the rally. Says a source in the party, “We’ve had enough of his tantrums. Going by what he was doing, he might as well have started a party of his own. In Uttar Pradesh, he threatens local workers, listens to no one in authority, does not follow rules laid down by the party. He even began campaigning for himself in Sultanpur much before the party declared its list of candidates for Uttar Pradesh.”
No wonder the new dispensation was only further miffed when Maneka Gandhi started making noises about Varun being the most appropriate chief ministerial candidate for Uttar Pradesh. Far from being chief ministerial material, Varun had reportedly alienated grassroots workers in the state, organising parallel rallies of his own and defying party diktats.
Evidently, complaints against Varun had been mounting with senior party leaders over the recent past. There was little that even former party presidents Rajnath Singh and Nitin Gadkari, who are inclined to be sympathetic to Varun, could do to help. “There was an urgent need to discipline Varun, and what has happened to him is only the just reward for his indiscipline,” says a source. “The only two things that pay in the BJP today are loyalty and discipline. Varun seems to have lost both.”
Ironic as it may be, five years back, in 2009, during a previous election campaign, Varun’s alleged anti-minority speech at a Pilibhit rally—in which he threatened violence against Muslims—had won him the trust of the Sangh parivar. Outrageously virulent, the comments ensured that never could anyone question his Hindutva leanings. In fact, post the comments, sources confirm, Varun had particularly endeared himself to former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan. Varun, back then, seemed firmly entrenched within both Sangh parivar circles and the BJP dispensation. Politics, however, has a tendency of blunting affections and favour, as Varun may have realised now. His hubris too, it might be said, contributed greatly to his downfall.
In February 2004, Varun had found an enviable entry into the BJP. Hours before then president Venkaiah Naidu announced Varun’s induction into the party, Atal Behari Vajpayee had generously posed with him and Maneka for the shutterbugs. Saffron ideologues who had so far dubbed Sanjay as the architect of the Emergency, the darkest period of Indian democracy, were not just willing to forget for a while their opposition to Sanjay but were even enthusiastic to welcome Sanjay’s son into the bhagwa fold with open arms. A decade later, the charmed existence of the youngest politician of the Gandhi family seems to be fraying. In many ways, Varun has run a full circle, from being first among equals in the BJP to one among several.
By Prarthna Gahilote in Mumbai