New Delhi/Rae Bareli : Varun Gandhi emerged Monday as the new poster boy of the BJP which declared he would remain its candidate in Pilibhit, triggering a hostile face-off with the Election Commission and deepening the divide within India’s most famous political family.
As ‘the other Gandhi’ continued to dominate the headlines, the rift between the two factions of the family — headed by the late prime minister’s two widowed daughters-in-law Sonia and Maneka — widened with cousin Priyanka speaking out against his hate speeches. As did the gulf between the Election Commission and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which launched a scathing attack on the poll panel.
“As far as candidature is concerned, I want to say this in clear words that Varun Gandhi will remain our candidate. And we will go for campaigning for him,” said party president Rajnath Singh, a day after the Election Commission castigated Varun Gandhi for his communally inflammatory campaign speeches in Pilibhit.
“Varun Gandhi was our candidate and will remain so,” spokesperson Balbir Punj asserted, reacting sharply to the Election Commission’s advice not to field Varun Gandhi because of his allegedly inflammatory campaign speeches. “This suggestion of the Election Commission is pregnant with serious implications for Indian democracy.”
The Election Commission had said the “two speeches (by Varun Gandhi) contained highly derogatory references and seriously provocative language of a wholly unacceptable nature against a certain community”.
Not sparing the BJP, the order stated: “Any sponsorship of his candidature by the BJP, or any other political party, at this election would be perceived as endorsing his unpardonable acts of inciting violence and creating feelings of enmity and hatred between different classes of citizens of India, destroying the social, democratic and plural fabric of the country.”
Notwithstanding the stinging indictment, the party declared that there was no question of cancelling Varun Gandhi’s candidature.
“Varun Gandhi has not been even chargesheeted while people like Sanjay Dutt, Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, who have been convicted for various crimes, are allowed to contest elections,” Punj said.
The party’s protege Varun Gandhi, fighting his maiden election, took his cue from his senior and said in his reply to the poll panel that he was deeply disappointed “over the unseemly haste” shown by it in censuring him.
“It is astonishing that such harsh censure should be used without any attempt to ascertain the truth,” Varun Gandhi stated.
“Having received the Election Commission order late last night at 11 p.m. after it had been issued to certain sections of the media much before me, I cannot help but express my deep disappointment over the unseemly haste in which the Election Commission has passed an opinion without giving me even a fair opportunity to appear in person or through counsel to establish my innocence.”
While Varun Gandhi prepared to continue to his battle for the ballot, Priyanka Vadra said in Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli constituency, where she was campaigning for her mother Sonia Gandhi, that her cousin’s communally charged comments were against the traditions the Gandhi family had “lived and died for”.
And then with tongue firmly in cheek, she advised cousin Varun, eight years her junior, to “try to read the Gita properly and understand it”.
It was a reference to Varun Gandhi’s comments at a meeting in Pilibhit where he allegedly said: “If somebody lifts a hand against Hindus, or thinks they are weak, there is nobody behind them, then I swear on the (Bhagvad) Gita that I will cut off that hand.”
“Varun’s comments are against the traditions and principles of the (Gandhi) family and he has gone against what the Gandhis have lived and died for… It made me very sad to see him saying those things on TV… What can I say?” Priyanka told reporters.
“I would advise him to read the Gita (the Hindu philosophical scripture) properly and try to understand it.”
The break in the family goes back to when Indira Gandhi was prime minister in her second term in the 1980s. Varun Gandhi was just a baby when his father Sanjay died in a plane crash in June 1980, and his mother developed differences with Indira Gandhi.
Two years later, in February 1982, his mother walked out of the house to go on to join the opposition ranks against her powerful mother-in-law who made no bones of her fondness for her elder daughter-in-law Sonia Gandhi, the Italian born wife of Rajiv Gandhi.