Monday, March 23, 2009

Power & Politics / Mail Today, March 23, 2009

THERE wasn’t much that was unpredictable that happened last week. The Gandhis as usual dominated the news, but with a surprising twist. In the midst of a most challenging election campaign, Rahul Gandhi was conspicuous by his absence, not to be seen either in college campuses or in the barns of Amethi. But the Gandhis were not missed, since his younger, estranged cousin Varun Feroze took full advantage and was all over the TV channels and newspapers, and for all the wrong reasons. His election campaign — if he still gets the ticket — has got off to the worst possible start after his abominable and totally unacceptable diatribe against the minorities.

He later denied the statements attributed to him but then, you can say he is learning the ropes fast. But that’s besides the point. The question that begs an answer is: was it just a slip of the tongue from the 28 year old Varun, arguably a bright young man who graduated from the London School of Economics, or was there a method behind what leading writers have been unanimous to term as “ political madness”. The BJP, in the midst of an intra- party feud, flip- flopped from totally disowning his remarks one day to showing restrained support to his claim that he was a victim of mischievous media manipulation.

Predictably, the BJP’s allies like the Shiv Sena have been fulsome in supporting him and even hailed him as the “ Real Gandhi”. His subsequent statements, wherein he said he was “ proud of being a Gandhi and a Hindu” would suggest that Varun was consciously setting himself apart from other members of the estranged clan who have been brought up to believe quite to the contrary. So, was there a strategy to project Varun as the new Hindu icon in a state which was Hindutva’s original laboratory and where the BJP has truly fallen on hard times? It has no issues to fall back on, no leaders beyond panchayat stature and a demoralised cadre. Friends in the BJP have told me that, on his own, Varun is trying to mobilise and revive the Hindutva forces and it must have been the exuberance of youth that stood in the way of Varun realising that he had crossed the Lakshman Rekha.

I don’t know if he will now get a ticket and if he gets one, I am no pundit or psephologist to predict victory or defeat. But should he win, there could be two Gandhis in the 15th Lok Sabha who couldn’t be more apart. Cousin Rahul, restrained and cautious and confining himself to the company of close confidantes, just as dad Rajiv did with Arun Singh and Romi Chopra in the short time he was in politics and his mother does now.

And Varun, aggressive, forthright, go- forthe jugular type, just like his dad Sanjay was in the company of Jagdish Tytler, Kamal Nath, Akbar “ Dumpy” Ahmed and others. On a cold wintry night in early 1982, I was outside 1 Safdarjang Road, then home to the country’s prime minister, when Maneka scooped the two year old Varun in her arms in defiance of her mother- in- law and walked out of the Gandhi household for ever. Indira Gandhi was then said to be the most powerful woman in the world and here was a 26- year- old widow taking her on.

The rest, as they say, is history. The moral of the story: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And Varun is as tough as they come.

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