Lok Sabha polls: Varun in hot water? Why BJP dumped the 'other Gandhi'

BJP MP Menaka Gandhi's son is proving as outspoken as his Congress-side cousins, openly critical of the Modi government's handling of several issues

Varun Gandhi, once seen as a firebrand leader within the BJP, has found himself sidelined  (photo: @varungandhi80/X)
Varun Gandhi, once seen as a firebrand leader within the BJP, has found himself sidelined (photo: @varungandhi80/X)

NH Political Bureau

The exclusion of Varun Gandhi, son of Sanjay Gandhi and grandchild of Indira Gandhi, from the list of candidates for the Lok Sabha elections announced by the BJP on Sunday, 24 March, comes as small surprise to those in the know.

It was inevitable that Gandhi, the Pilibhit MP who was once hailed as a firebrand leader within the saffron camp and the son of longstanding BJP leader Maneka Gandhi (who has again been given a ticket), would find himself sidelined by the BJP sooner than later — especially given the causes he has chosen to back over the last few years.

Indeed, his very proclivity of picking his position with integrity may have been his downfall. (Some may argue it was the one wrong choice, that of following the parental legacy, that may have been his undoing.)

To unravel the BJP's motivation, however, one must delve past his habit of defiance.

While the limelight may have been (deliberately?) trained away from him, Varun Gandhi has openly criticised his own government for its treatment of farmers under the Modi administration. During the Muzaffarnagar protests of 2021, He referred to them as “our own flesh and blood” and stressed the importance of "re-engaging with them in a respectful manner".

It was also Varun who launched a scathing attack on a minister within his own party without holding back in connection with the farmers' protest.

When the son of union minister Ajay Mishra Teni, Ashish Mishra, allegedly mowed down protesting farmers in broad daylight during the year-long protests of 2019–20, Varun Gandhi did not hesitate to confront his own government. He not only shared the video footage but also condemned the incident as 'murder'.

Undoubtedly, Varun's stance will have irked the BJP high command, in particular Narendra Modi and Amit Shah — even if he is too low-key to have done much damage.

This was a bold move in particular, for Teni is known to be very close to Amit Shah and serves in the ministry of home affairs. Targeting Teni was therefore perceived as an act of rebellion against Shah.

However, it's very much part of a pattern. Varun Gandhi has consistently refused to succumb to pressure or hold back, despite the potential implications for his political career and despite his mother's example.

And all this may, just may, have been overlooked — had he not also raised his voice for causes espoused by the BJP's arch-rivals and cast his 'family ties' into doubt.

While his cousin Rahul Gandhi of the Indian National Congress brought the issue of rising unemployment to the forefront of political discourse in recent months, Varun Gandhi has criticised the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh too. In November 2023, he boldly stated, “There are 1 crore posts vacant in various departments across the country but they are not being filled — deliberately.”

Furthermore, when the Yogi government suspended the licence of a hospital named after his father, the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital in Amethi, Varun wasted no time in stepping forward to defend it. He openly criticised the Adityanath Yogi government for its actions.

Varun Gandhi also derided the Modi government's highly promoted Agnipath scheme. In doing so, as a BJP MP, he has not just attacked his own party leaders, he has championed and highlighted the issues help up by Rahul Gandhi and the Congress.

While his bold stance may have endeared him to the people and showcased his independent thinking and political commitment — to the nation's citizens, as it should be, regardless of the party line — it was inevitable that he should pay the price.

Varun Gandhi has also spoken up on the issue of paper leaks and confronted his own party's failure to provide an government jobs to the youth of India. He questioned how long the youths' patience could be counted upon and urged urgent corrective action.

In a tweet, Gandhi said, 'First, there are no government jobs, and then when there is an ooprtunity, the paper gets leaked. If you take the exam, you don't have the results for years. Then the exams get cancelled in some scam. About 1.25 crore youth who applied for jobs in Railway Group D are awaiting results for two years. The same is true of recruitment in the army. For how long can the youth of India be patient?"

And so it is that the decision to exclude Varun Gandhi from the candidate list is being viewed by many as a boon for Opposition parties even as it betrays the BJP's own lack of confidence in its report card!

Varun's robust presence in his constituency and unmatched popularity among Pilibhit's voters make him a formidable political figure. In a recent ABP opinion poll, over 72 per cent of respondents expressed satisfaction with Varun Gandhi as their MP.

Meanwhile, his mother Maneka Gandhi has been fielded from Sultanpur again, And notably, it is former Congress leader Jitin Prasada, who joined the BJP in 2021 and was considered close to Rahul Gandhi at one time, who replaces Varun Gandhi from Pilibhit.

Varun, it is clear, was too honest and outspoken, too pro-people for the Bharatiya Janata Party. The attempt to bundle him out of the frame being upheld ahead of the elections is understandable. There is hardly any mystery to merit a raised eyebrow there.

Now the real question is: Can the Opposition take the advantage it has been handed?

If leveraged effectively, Varun Gandhi could emerge as an invaluable asset for the opposition. He has even the potential to sway seats like Raebareli and Amethi towards the Congress, believe many. Can he be wooed a little further — enough to change sides and make another critical choice, for both India and I.N.D.I.A.?

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