Is Varun Gandhi A Victim of ‘Surname Politics’?

Posted by Gunja Kapoor in Politics
February 14, 2017

It is strange that the BJP punishes Varun Gandhi for his association with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty – but not his mother.

Varun Gandhi joined Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) with his mother, Maneka Gandhi, under the able leadership of Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004. Twelve years hence, he has contested and won two Lok Sabha elections, served as the youngest General Secretary of BJP and has also written best-sellers. He has also been embroiled in controversies, reprimanded by the Modi-Shah camp, side-stepped by his party on multiple important occasions, and often fielded tough questions related to his surname. While the BJP leadership refuses to comment on its organisational mechanics, Varun Gandhi’s supporters feel that the young leader has been denied his due shares of  responsibilities, recognition, and rewards.

In 2014, when Varun Gandhi was asked to resign from the post of General Secretary of the BJP, party secretary Siddharth Nath Singh had stated that the outgoing General Secretary would be assigned new roles and responsibilities, as deemed fit by the party. Since then, the political corridors in the election-bound state have been rife with discussions on what the future holds for the young politician. Come the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections 2017 – all rumours were put to rest, when the party decided to contest a yet another ‘faceless’ election, followed by the ‘Varunless’ first list of star campaigners.

To prevent the rumour mills from choking the air, BJP did announce Varun Gandhi as a star campaigner in the second list. However, he has unequivocally stayed away from the state elections. During my interactions with some local people in Varun’s home ground, I gathered that not only was Varun Gandhi’s face missing from the campaign posters, Varun Gandhi’s supporters were also being denied their due share in the party. In an ETV survey for BJP’s CM face in UP, Varun Gandhi got 51% votes, Rajnath Sigh trailed at 28%, while Yogi Adityanath fell far at 5% and Smriti Irani at 1%.

Things were never easy for the young Nehru-Gandhi descendant, in the BJP, for obvious reasons. His association with the family was always held against him. While Maneka Gandhi never hesitated to say it all, her son never advocated attacks on his kindred on the public stage. Despite his electoral performance in 2009 where his victory margin was higher than all the family members in the state, repeated denouncement of Rahul Gandhi’s remarks, successful implementation of projects on ground – the party had admonished him rather severely for his controversial speech in 2009 at Pilibhit. The contents of this speech were perverse with plausible ramifications. Although Varun Gandhi has challenged the veracity of the video, the party has taken a very unforgiving stance towards him, since then.

  2009 2014
Varun Gandhi – Votes 4,19,539 4,10,348
% of Total Votes 50.09 42.51
Constituency Pilibhit Sultanpur

Sources: Election Commission of India, General Elections, 2009, 2014

This was not the first time that a BJP party member had made contentious remarks in public. However, the party reproached him far more harshly, with far reaching consequences, for two reasons. Firstly, this treatment was meted for exemplary purposes, to prevent any future callousness by party members – and secondly, to ‘walk the talk’ against nepotism .

Varun Gandhi’s supporters in Sultanpur laud him for personally monitoring projects at the ground level and establishing a personal connect with his constituency – even in the absence of a forthcoming election.

On the other hand, political strategists point out three reasons where the genesis of his issues with BJP could lie.

Firstly, Varun Gandhi comes across as a self-assured young politician. This appeals to his voters – but simultaneously, also intimidates his colleagues. In 2011, when he became the first active politician to declare his support for Anna Hazare’s movement, he came across as a leader who had a ‘mind of his own’ to his supporters. However, it was an act of perfidy and impudent behaviour for the party cadres. The masses appreciate him for being an ‘independent thinker’, while the party censures him for being ‘too independent’. It must be noted that in this tussle, the party has the upper hand.

Secondly, in a party that has historically been driven by karyakartas (workers), who rise up the ranks based on their work, the party sees it unfair to promote a very young lad in the party. For an organisation that leaves no opportunity to accuse other parties of being ‘slaves of dynasty politics’, it is therefore appropriate that it does not want to fall prey to the maa-beta (mother-son) trap. However, this justification cannot be justified anymore, with several family members being awarded political tickets in the states that matter. Unfortunately, Varun Gandhi still bears the brunt of this treatment, and has to work ‘equally hard’ to prove his ‘loyalty’, and ‘doubly hard’ to prove his ‘allegiance’, despite his surname.

Thirdly, Varun Gandhi did not meet the expectations of the BJP cadres. He was expected to take on the Gandhis of Congress in public fora, campaign against them in elections, and strip their dignity using ‘bitter vocabulary’. It was only a matter of time, before one expected the two cousins to spew venom and wash their dirty linen in public. Varun Gandhi has categorically denied campaigning in Amethi and Raebareli. He has also refused to discuss his family in the media, thereby, transgressing all party expectations. Clearly, there is little advantage in BJP promoting the self-determined politician.

If the institutional undercurrents continue to be punitive, and Varun Gandhi sees his party penalising him for being a Nehru-Gandhi descendant, as a punishment for opting out of ‘hate politics’, it only makes sense for him, politically, to head for a ghar wapsi (return to home). After 12 years in the party, and with little going for him still – one would be surprised if Varun Gandhi continues to endure the harsh treatment, and suffer in the annals of the ‘Modi-Shah theatrical’.

Either way, it is advantage Varun!

The article was also published here.

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