He is pitted against his own 'bhanja' (nephew) Varun Gandhi for the Pilibhit seat, but Congress candidate V.M. Singh, who has emerged as India's richest candidate so far, is confident he will defeat Varun's "rabid communal gameplan". Singh, 50, whose declared assets were Rs.631 crore (Rs.6.31 billion), is the key contender against Bharatiya Janata Party's new-found Hindutva mascot Varun Gandhi from this Uttar Pradesh constituency.
Singh is a first cousin of Maneka Gandhi, the estranged sister-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. This makes him Varun Gandhi's maternal uncle. However, Maneka Gandhi and he parted ways more than a decade and a half ago, on account of "Maneka's dishonest ways", he says.
Singh claims Varun Gandhi tried to influence the Congress leadership to deny him the ticket from Pilibhit. "Let me tell you that the bhanja had moved heaven and earth to influence the top Congress leadership to ensure denial of the party ticket to me," Singh told IANS in an interview.
"And only after he failed miserably in his mission that he stooped to playing dirty communal politics - something my family always taught me to detest."
"So where is the question of 'mama-bhanja' (uncle-nephew ties)?", the lean, tall and unassuming billionaire, replied when asked how he felt contesting against his nephew, adding, "I am the Congress candidate and he belongs to the BJP."
On Varun Gandhi's hate speeches against Muslims in Pilibhit, for which he was jailed by the Uttar Pradesh government and charged under the National Security Act, Singh said: "The rabid communal approach adopted by Varun from the first day he put his foot on the Pilibhit soil was clearly aimed at polarising the Hindu vote.
"But I am confident that the son and mother's gameplan will not work as the peace loving and secular minded people of this place can see through their designs," said Singh, who filed his nomination papers Thursday.
Known for his easy mannerisms, affability and simple living, Singh has never flaunted his wealth. "I believe in putting the wealth to good use of the farmer community, whose cause I believe in taking up. And thanks to a series of PILs moved by me before the Allahabad High Court and Supreme Court, sugarcane, wheat and paddy farmers across Uttar Pradesh have benefited to the tune of Rs.4,000-5,000 crore over the recent years," he said.
Though he never obtained a degree in law, this Delhi Modern School alumnus has argued each of his cases on his own in court, and that too against the country's best known legal luminaries, engaged by very affluent sugarmill owners.
He has been a severe critic of Maneka Gandhi against whom he has fought over the years. Maneka Gandhi, who has held the Pilibhit seat for five consecutive terms, has shifted to another constituency, Aonla, this time.
"Having lost much of her erstwhile popular support, because of her sustained indifference and neglect of the constituency, Maneka could not think of any gimmick other than arousing communal passions by making the son play a Hindu hardliner card," Singh claimed.
Singh may have lost the last election to Maneka, but that has not dampened his spirits. "The only time I have contested against her was in 2004. I could ensure a sharp fall in her support by polling more votes than others, which none of her opponents could do in the past." "And this time I am all set to demolish her myth," he asserted.
Asked about his wealth, Singh said: "I may not be the wealthiest, but I believe in honestly declaring my assets." "I am not among those who conceal their assets. All this is inherited property, passed on to me by my grandfather (dadaji), who owned huge property and land in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh as well as in and around Delhi.
"Maneka's mother too staked claim to the property, but it was refused by the highest court of the land. On account of this, I became an eyesore for Maneka," Singh claimed.
He is widely acknowledged as a "messiah of the farmers and a good samaritan, always ready to lend a helping hand to the poor and the needy".