M A I N   N E W S

Varun, Priyanka slug it out over family legacy
Shahira Naim
Tribune News Service

Amethi/Sultanpur, April 15
The Gandhi versus Gandhi war of words is getting shrill in Uttar Pradesh like never before. Countering cousin Priyanka’s brother-gone-astray remark, BJP Sultanpur candidate Varun Gandhi said his “inherent decency and large-heartedness should not be construed as weakness by anyone”.

Addressing a meeting soon after filing his nomination on Tuesday, 34-year-old Varun said Priyanka had crossed the "lakshman rekha of decency” and that nobody can raise one’s stature by belittling somebody.

“There has been talk of my path. I have always considered the nation’s path more important than my own. It is my request to all that instead of personal attacks, we debate unemployment, corruption, poverty, illiteracy. Let us try to raise the level of discourse rather than lowering it. When we practice politics centred on personal criticism, we deviate from the crucial issues of our times,” Varun said in Sultanpur.

Priyanka, who was campaigning for her brother and mother in adjoining Amethi, fired yet another salvo at Varun and described the war of words as an ideological divide. She said her father had laid down his life for the unity of the country and if a family member joins divisive forces, it would be seen as betrayal.

Despite being opponents in the electoral battle in several Lok Sabha elections, the Gandhis had maintained a decent distance between the personal and the political. But the fine equilibrium is suddenly under pressure, forcing Varun to issue a public statement. So, how is 2014 different from 2009 when the same mother-son sets were in the fray from UP?

In 2009, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi continued to contest from their seats of Rae Bareli and Amethi, respectively. However, five-time Pilibhit MP Maneka Gandhi shifted to neighbouring Aonla in the Terai region to hand over her the seat to son Feroze Varun Gandhi, who made his controversial electoral debut.

Varun’s several hate speeches in Pilibhit constituency during campaigning landed him in trouble, as his opponent and uncle VM Singh (Congress) complained to the Election Commission with the tapes. The then Chief Minister Mayawati was quick to arrest Varun under the NSA, ensuring him a spectacular victory.

Varun polled 4,19,539 votes in 2009, defeating VM Singh by 2,81,501 votes. The security deposits of all other 15 candidates, including his uncle as well as BSP nominee Ganga Charan Rajput, were forfeited.

Despite controversies around Varun, the Gandhis did not cross paths in 2009 and remained focussed in their respective constituencies in two corners of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2014, the equation has changed. For strategic reasons, Varun has changed his constituency to Sultanpur adjacent to Rae Bareli and Amethi and largely considered part of the Nehru-Gandhi bastion.

This brought him in direct competition with aunt Sonia Gandhi and cousin Rahul. Suddenly, Varun also became a claimant to the age-old Nehru-Gandhi legacy of the region that evokes emotions comparable to the British royalty in the UK.

Incidentally, the Amethi seat that Varun’s father Sanjay Gandhi had won in 1980 was then part of Sultanpur district.

To make Congress workers distinguish between party and family loyalty, Priyanka had told a group of Congress workers in Amethi that her cousin Varun had gone “astray”.

Addressing a closed door meeting after brother Rahul’s nomination in Amethi on April 12, she said, “If you think someone from my family is contesting the Sultanpur seat, you are right. He (Varun) is from my family, he is my brother... But he has gone astray.”





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