The conflicting positions of the progenies of one of India's most famous political families have added a touch of melodrama to the current election scene.
In a script befitting a prime time soap opera, the earlier splintering of the celebrated household has now produced a descendent in Varun Gandhi who has as much potential of becoming the enfant terrible of Indian politics as his controversial father, Sanjay Gandhi, did during the Emergency of 1975-77.
At the same time, the more sober elements of the Nehru-Gandhi family are advising Varun to mend his ways though they cannot but derive secret satisfaction from the disruptive effects of his antics on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the combination led by it, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
In a way, it is an unequal battle with Varun on the losing side, for his virulent anti-Muslim outbursts cannot but cause both him and his party no end of political and legal trouble.
For the BJP, his venomous rhetoric poses a dilemma. The party can neither totally disown him lest it should antagonise its core group of supporters, who have long been reared on such poisonous propaganda, nor can it endorse the young man since this will alienate the party's secular allies in the NDA, such as the Janata Dal (United).
To find a way out, the BJP has tried to shift the attention to the Election Commission, which has helpfully committed a blunder by advising the party to drop Varun as a candidate. Since it has no right to do so, the BJP is portraying the commission as anti-BJP, a charge which it made even earlier when the supposedly pro-Congress Navin Chawla was chosen by the government as the next chief election commissioner (CEC).
Interestingly, Chawla, who has been described by the outgoing CEC, N Gopalaswamy, as a Congress mole, was said to be a crony of Sanjay Gandhi.
Varun's anti-Muslim distribe is a throwback to the BJP's and the saffron brotherhood's Ramjanmabhoomi agitation which led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. As then, his venom has galvanized the party's base of support. But the difference is that it is not the kind of mobilization which the BJP wants now as it tries to project itself, and its prime ministerial candidate, LK Advani, as ready to lead a pluralistic society.
As it is, the party lost a valuable ally in Orissa, the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD), in the aftermath of the burning of churches and attacks on Christian villages by the saffron stormtroopers. The Janata Dal-United too has expressed its displeasure over Varun's comments. Unless the BJP is able to restrain him, the party will be in serious political trouble notwithstanding the ideological succour provided to Varun by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Shiv Sena and the Hindu Mahasabha.
However, Varun himself may have boxed himself into a corner, for he cannot expect to carve out a serious political career after being branded as a reckless rabble-rouser. Just as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is yet to live down his infamy related to the riots of 2002, Varun too may become someone who will be bracketed with the likes of the fiery sanyasin, Uma Bharati, or the shrill Muslim-baiter, Sadhvi Rithambara, who gained prominence at the time of the Babri masjid demolition.
As a result, it is Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi's side of the dynasty which will come to be regarded as the true inheritors of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi's secular political legacy.