Varun Gandhi praising cousin Rahul Gandhi isn’t music to the ears of Maneka Gandhi, mother of Bhartiya Janata Party’s youngest general secretary. And the mother, whose troubled relationship with the ‘first family’ is no secret, has some words of advice for her son – use mind instead of heart while making statements.
“What Varun Gandhi has said is wrong. He should not speak before verifying facts,” Maneka told reporters in Pilibhit. But campaigning miles away in Sultanpur – which once formed part of his father Sanjay Gandhi’s constituency – Varun is unfazed by the media controversy over the new warmth in the relationship between two cousins.
Varun, who as a young politician was accused of delivering inflammatory speech against Muslims in 2009, is here with a purpose and a message. He is now talking about becoming an ‘agent of hope’ whose politics would be inclusive.
“Politics of religion and caste has done a lot of damage to the country. We need to change this. I want to be an agent of change. My politics will be that of hope and promise,” says the 34-year-old, a far cry from his 2009 avatar.
As his garland-laden SUV zips through the constituency, eager villagers gather around to catch a glimpse of the Gandhi scion who greets them with folded hands and head slightly bowed. “My energy level increases at every other meeting. You have shown so much of love,” says an overwhelmed Varun at a meeting in Lambhua village. He is addressing 18-20 public meetings a day.
Many of those who are supporting Varun also campaigned for his father. “Thirty years ago, Maneka told a crowd here that Sanjay’s four-year-old son would become MP of Sultanpur someday. That day has arrived,” says a grey-haired local BJP leader, introducing Varun at one of the public meetings.
Varun, who lost his daughter last year, wants to set up an orphanage and an old age home with his own money in Sultanpur. “Promoting small scale industries would be another agenda,” he adds.
At Badhaiya village, someone from the crowd interrupts his speech with a, “It is difficult to get in touch with you.” Varun stops his speech and asks his personal security officer Narayan Singh to go into the crowd and give his mobile number to the man. “But, don’t call after 10 pm,” he shouts back and the crowd bursts into laughter.
So who is Varun’s role model? “I want to emulate various aspects of different personalities. I would like to have in me my grandmother’s (Indira Gandhi) commitment to the nation, her inherent simplicity and her concept of nation as a whole. I would also want to have as large a heart as Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He was very democratic,” he said.
The heart of this saffron Gandhi appears to be creating space to accommodate people he breathed fire against until the other day. It is perhaps indicative of the process of reinventing himself as a mature, responsible leader.