The Times of India
November 13, 2010
If Indira Gandhi could see her grandsons today, she would probably be bemused. Four decades after she took the country by storm with her garibi hatao campaign, the sons of her two sons are trying for a replay as they vie to appropriate her political plank. At first, it was only Rajiv's son Rahul who chose to cast himself in her pro-poor image.
Now, Sanjay's son Varun has decided to follow suit. In a 180 degree-turn from the pro-Hindu rhetoric that earned him notoriety as a Hindutva hero in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, Varun Gandhi jumped on the family bandwagon recently to declare that politics should be "poor-centric, not election-centric".
It's a political gambit that borders on pure soap as the Gandhi scions weave their way through Uttar Pradesh, supping with Dalits, rubbing shoulders with farmers, making the youth pitch and, of course, training their guns on state chief minister Mayawati. If Rahul has spent nights in Dalit huts and opened his purse strings to donate Rs 2. 5 lakh to the four orphaned daughters of a slain Dalit family in UP's Etawah district, Varun, too, has been dropping in at Dalit homes in the state. From Hardoi to Kanpur Dehat, he has surprised atrocity victims with unannounced visits, recently doling out Rs 1 lakh each to the families of two girls who were raped and murdered.
If Rahul threw his weight behind farmers in Tappal protesting against land acquisition for Mayawati's dream Yamuna expressway project and went from village to village to declare his support, Varun has taken up the cause of flood-hit marginal farmers along the Ganga with a rally in Mirzapur and tea and sympathy for affected families. Like Rahul, Varun has struck a pose as a humble student of India's complex social and political order. This is surround sound. The bytes reverberate like echoes in a state which the Nehru-Gandhi family has always considered its fiefdom.
Rahul has the benefit of historical continuity. But Varun's is an audacious bid, and the irony could not be more telling as he attempts to create an Indira mould in a party that has anti-Congressism written into its DNA. Predictably, he's stirred up a hornet's nest in the BJP which finds itself deeply divided over the Gandhi in its midst.
There are enough in the BJP, and in the RSS as well, who are sufficiently in awe of Varun's family name to indulge him in his trial-and-error quest for successful political positioning. They believe that the power of the name can compensate, at least partially, for the absence of effective leadership in UP. With Atal Behari Vajpayee out of action because of age and poor health, the BJP has virtually no star campaigner in a state that is regarded as the road to Delhi because it sends as many as 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. It's this vacuum that Varun is seeking to exploit. And given the dog-eat-dog nature of his party's internal dynamics, he probably has enough elbow room for maneuver. Certainly, no-one has been able to stop him so far and a section is said to be secretly thrilled that an older generation of UP BJP leaders is fuming over the antics of someone they consider an upstart and an outsider.
It's interesting that the two cousins have chosen to trail their grandmother's footsteps and not follow their fathers', both of who were decidedly pro-business and leaned to the right rather than the left. Varun is believed to have told those close to him that he has been influenced deeply by something his grandmother used to say - that she would have been ousted by her opponents in the Congress if she did not have the poor of India on her side. Similarly, sources in the Congress say that Rahul has been studying Indira Gandhi's politics closely for the past couple of years and is crafting his political plank accordingly, albeit with a contemporary flavour.
There's a disturbing naivetê to their conviction that Indira Gandhi had a magic wand. Can a successful political plank be built with the invocation of a memory, mere rhetoric and symbolic jaunts through UP? After her spectacular defeat in the 1977 polls, Indira Gandhi reclaimed space with aplomb by riding on an elephant to commiserate with the Dalit victims of a caste massacre in Belchi in Bihar. But that was 1978 and Indira Gandhi was not only a formidable mass leader, her party machinery was still functional. This is 2010. Both the Congress and the BJP are struggling with a defunct organisation in UP, which has become the main battleground of the Gandhi cousins, and Rahul and Varun have to earn their political spurs. Their first real test will come in 2012 when the UP assembly polls roll around. Till then, their cousinly rivalry for the Indira legacy is bound to add spice to the political brew in India's most important state.
Shri Varun Gandhi's Interview with BJP Today
BJP Today - A lot of people, both within our party and outside, were surprised when you joined the party. What attracted you to the party?
VG - For a long time, there has been a sense of disenchantment among the youth with both politics and politicians. Young people were hesitant to join public life. Politics was even considered a dirty word. It was precisely to counter this trend and to set a positive example that I decided to join a political party.
My choice of the BJP came from an acknowledgement of its mature and skillful handling of a coalition government towards a strong and self reliant India. I identified myself with the spirit of nationalism and swabhiman that the party represented. Given my family's Congress background, many people may have been surprised at my choice but as I have pointed out before, it's not a party my family has been loyal to, but a set of ideals. And it is these selfsame ideals that I am and shall continue to be true to. Moreover, I am gratified that my entry seems to have galvanised many young people, including my own cousin, to join active politics.
BJP Today - Tell us something about yourself.
VG - I have been born and brought up in India. My schooling was divided between a boarding school in South India and day school in Delhi. I graduated in Economics from London School of Economics, and completed my MSc in Public Policy from SOAS.
BJP Today - India is today a young nation, in a literal sense of the term. Sixty-five percent of the population is below 30 years of age. You, too, are a member of this new generation. What, in your view, are the aspirations of young Indians?
VG - Young India is in a hurry. The world is in a flux. Technology is changing all the rules. Young people want to lead and direct the change. As confidence levels rise, aspirations grow from the purely personal, which comes from a need for economic and social security to the nation, which comes from patriotism. Young people now care as much about the country's future as their own. Today, there is a real sense of India's destiny as a world leader.
BJP Today - How can these aspirations be fulfilled?
VG - In an increasingly complex world, the value of clear, independent thought and strong institutions cannot be over-emphasised. We need to build and protect systems against caste and creed considerations, money and muscle power. We need more sensitivity in policy-making and more accountability in policy enforcement. We need greater priority to be given to rural India, agri-based and small-scale industry , education, environment and hygiene, so that there is all-round development rather than hopeless disparity that we see today.
I see water resources as a key issue in the future. We need to embrace methods that recognise local strengths and compulsions rather than impose foreign models blindly. We need long-term national goals - not quick fix, partisan solutions. We need greater responsibility shouldered by young people towards overall decentralised local governance. We must reinforce indigenous skills and strengths so that we do not end up as faceless, soulless clones of the West. As Japan has shown, economic prosperity need not come at the cost of national pride. I believe that the way to peace and prosperity for India lies in unity, justice and reconciliation.
BJP Today - As a representative of what is popularly described as 'Generation Next', what can you tell us about your interactions with, and impressions about, Shri Atalji and Shri Advaniji?
VG - When I joined the BJP, the country was going to the polls, so I had the privilege of observing the party's two leaders in top gear, leading from the front. I was impressed by Shri Advaniji's energy and clear-sightedness, and Shri Vajpayee's tremendous ability to inspire confidence and courage.
Post elections, they have been most gracious with their time and tutelage, as I have tried to distill from their vast and varied experience of India, a sense of what makes this country unique and how it can best face the challenges of the future.
BJP Today - Even though you are less than the age that would qualify you to contest elections, you have already become one of the Party's election campaigners. You campaigned in the Lok Sabha polls and you have also campaigned in the ongoing Assembly polls. What new thoughts and new experiences did you absorb while addressing election rallies and mingling with the masses? What does the face of a common Indian voter tell you?
VG - Immediately upon joining the party, I was plunged into the Lok Sabha and then the Assembly elections to campaign. This has been a tremendous learning experience, both humbling and uplifting. From traversing the campaign trail, one gets a first-hand sense of the size and diversity of the country. One also realises that the common Indian voter is quick to reject falsity and pomposity. He has a good grasp of local issues and is fed up of meaningless slogans and empty promises. there is a longing for new ideas and a desire to trust.
The Indian public is actually in search of heroes. The upturned faces at a rally are just so hopeful. Our greatest challenge is to not betray that faith. Election campaigns must focus on specific development issues and the voters must see that translated into reality. This is the only way of building faith in the system.
BJP Today - You seem to be particularly interested in the political developments of UP. How do you think the BJP can regain its lost ground in UP?
VG - To understand how to regain ground, one must first analyse the reasons for loss of ground. As I see it, the BJP grew too fast in UP and did not have the basic cadre to sustain its sudden success. The way back, therefore, may be slow but it will be sure. As a state with vast potential and little progress, there is enormous discontent. State governments have, for the most part, functioned as if they were anointed rather than appointed. I do believe, therefore, that there is a need for a mass movement to rescue the state from lethargy and corruption. The BJP must identify specific development issues and rally the state around these.
BJP Today - Many people think that the attention you get is because you are a Gandhi. However, those who know you, know that you are not just a Gandhi, but Varun Gandhi, a young political worker with much intrinsic potential. How does this debate reason with you?
VG - If one is going to worry too much about what people are going to say and think, one is going to remain paralysed by fear. My background may be an advantage, but ultimately it is my work that must speak for me. I have already published my first book (The Otherness of Self), a collection of poems, completed a post graduate degree and campaigned extensively during both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. I shall continue to work as hard as I can, and shoulder the best of my ability and responsibility that I am given.
BJP Today - What do you think of dynastic politics in a democracy?
VG - Dynastic politics is a throwback to feudal India. It has no place in a functioning, healthy democracy. But having said that, let us recognise that in India, apart from politics, there is a dynastic succession in business, in films, in the arts and in every other professional sphere. The fault, Dear Brutus, lies in ourselves.
The solution lies in increased self-confidence through better education and opportunities so that children seek their own destiny rather than cling to the security of inherited glory.
BJP Today - What in your opinion, are the the shortcomings of politics in India today?
VG - Partisanship or lack of national interest. Politics is increasingly being looked upon as an end in itself, a way to earn money and power, rather than as a means to engender change and progress. We need to rekindle the sense of patriotism that won us our freedom, we need to recover that spirit of personal sacrifice. We are embarked upon another struggle of independence - independence from hunger, unemployment, crime and injustice. Let all of us work unitedly towards an India free from these.
BJP Today - It's trite to ask any Indian, especially one in the BJP, "Do you believe in India?". Nevertheless, we would like to know your views on India's future, how to secure it, and especially the pitfalls in the journey.
VG - Yes, I believe in India and i am ready to work for my beliefs. Our country is uniquely poised to become one of the world's most powerful nations. I would like to see that power exercised with wisdom and compassion. History is littered with the ruins of civilisations destroyed by sloth, corruption and arrogance. We need to guard against these now and in the future.
Varun Gandhi's Speech in Assam During his Maiden Visit
Interests of Indians come first: Varun
Guwahati, September 9
Taking a tough stand against the Bangladeshi influx problem, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi on Wednesday termed it a national problem.
He also cautioned against sections trying to project the illegal migration issue as a communal problem and stressed that it was causing serious challenges before the country.
“We, India as a nation, should take care to ensure protection of social, economic and cultural rights of our citizens. We must fight for a system where interests of Indians come first,” Gandhi said here.
The young MP is in Assam to oversee the party’s preparedness for next year’s state Assembly polls after he was named the in-charge for Assam polls.
Gandhi announced that the BJP will fight the Assam elections on issues of rampant unemployment, lack of development and illegal Bangladeshi migration.
“Though the Ram Janambhoomi issue is the core issue of the party’s agenda from cultural of view, the same should not be linked to election issues in Assam and Bihar in the coming Assembly election,” he added.
He also called upon the party workers to play a more pro-active role and said, “ “Workers are the backbone of the party and I can assure you that party will not choose any poll candidate sans approval of the workers.”
“My responsibility as party’s in-charge of Assembly election in Assam do not confine to only winning more and more seats in the election, but also to win hearts and mind of the people,” the BJP’s youngest national secretary said.
Opposing mega dams in North East, the MP said, “We do not need mega dams in the country in view of the extensive collateral damage those dams cause to our ecology. I hail the recent government-citizens initiative to halt construction of a mega dam on Ganga in Uttarkhand.”
On the women’s reservation bill, Gandhi said, “As you know the party supports a Constitutional amendment in favour of it. However, when it comes to giving party tickets in election, the winnability of the candidates is the most important factor. We look forward to have more and more competent women candidates in fray in next Assembly polls in Assam.”
Illegal migration a national issue: Varun Gandhi
Assam, September 7, 2010
BJP leader Varun Gandhi today said that illegal migration from Bangladesh into the country was a "grave and a national issue."
"The problems arising out of illegal migration is a national issue and is not a community issue", Gandhi now on a tour to Assam said in Guwahati.
Lack of development, unemployment and corruption were the other burning issues of the state which the political parties should address, he said.
"There are more than 25 lakh unemployed youths in Assam and the job of the rulers will be to ensure them jobs," Gandhi said.
On the assembly election in Assam scheduled next year, the young BJP leader said the party should identify strong candidates and key areas.
On tie-up with Asom Gana Parishad, Gandhi said all friendly parties are important for the BJP but the party has the capacity to fight alone any election.
Expressing his desire to travel in the state to know the pulse of the people, the BJP leader on his maiden visit to the state, said it was important to know what the people wants rather than imposing on them the viewpoints of big political leaders.
Earlier in the day Gandhi addressed BJP workers and exhorted them to fight for the strengthening of the party.
Varun on maiden Assam recce
The TelegraphSeptember 6, 2010
The BJP is set to unleash its face of the future — Varun Gandhi — on Assam’s political landscape tomorrow by according him a welcome usually reserved for party presidents so that he makes an “instant” connect with partymen and voters. A cavalcade of 100 cars will proceed to the Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport with around 500 party workers and leaders to receive the youngest BJP national secretary and MP, who is also in charge of elections in the state. Besides, Bihu and Karbi troupes will greet Varun at the airport.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm within the party about his maiden visit given his charisma. During his two-day stay, he will take feedback from around 2,500 grassroots and senior leaders and kickstart our preparations for the Assembly polls,” said Dilip Saikia, state BJP secretary in-charge of Barpeta district.
P. Chandra Sekhar, BJP organising secretary, Northeast, said, “Having experimented with different leaders, time has come for Assam to take decisive action. The people’s choice is BJP and Varun Gandhi, with his natural leadership quality, is the right man to have been appointed and at the right time for Assam. He symbolises Assamese aspirations and the interests of the indigenous population — end to influx from Bangladesh, corruption and unrest. He has evinced interest in visiting the Bangladesh border and satras. We want him to make an instant impression.”
Understandably, the ruling Congress is wary. “We are not worried about Varun Gandhi’s visit. Our concern for Assam is reflected in our action. We have almost completed border fencing, started NRC update and are working on safeguards for indigenous population,” PCC secretary Rajesh Joshi said.