His father was widely touted as the real power behind the throne. As the Prime Minister’s son, many believed that he controlled the Prime Minister completely and used his influence to drive the administration. Conspiracy theorists believe that it was his baleful influence that led the Prime Minister to impose emergency and suspend all fundamental rights. His diabolical mind was blamed for the worst excesses of the emergency. At the age of 33, he was killed, or as some allege, bumped off, as he lost control of an aircraft he was piloting. Sanjay Gandhi’s death sent shockwaves throughout the country. Amidst other fallouts, it split the Nehru-Gandhi family down the middle. Sanjay’s wife, Maneka Gandhi left, or as some allege, hounded out of Indira Gandhi’s household along with her infant son, Varun. For the rest of her political career, Maneka Gandhi became associated with anti-Congress political outfits, beginning with Janata Dal and finally with the BJP. Unlike Sonia Gandhi, who went on to become the Congress President and the power behind the throne, Maneka Gandhi seemed content to contribute in her own small ways to causes that aroused her passion- animal rights, women’s empowerment etc. Her son, Varun Gandhi, followed in her mother’s footsteps and joined the BJP in 2004.
For the BJP, Varun and her mother, Maneka were prized possessions as they bore the Gandhi surname and yet were anti-Congress. Varun was also touted as the more intelligent Gandhi as compared to his cousin, Rahul who has been openly mocked for his antics for years now. Be that as it may, BJP’s doesn’t have the same fascination for the Gandhi surname as Congress does. In 2009, Varun Gandhi stood for Lok Sabha elections from Pilibhit. His victory was so complete that all other candidates lost the deposits. The sheer scale of his victory, by over 2.81 Lakh votes even dwarfed the victories of his cousin and aunt. In no small part, that victory was ascribed to an alleged hate speech against Muslims by Varun Gandhi. Varun Gandhi was quickly touted as a Hindutva icon and it seemed that his break with Gandhi-Nehru family was complete. Varun continued to rise within the BJP, becoming the party’s youngest National General Secretary and subsequently in-charge of BJP in West Bengal. Slowly and steadily, though, it began to emerge that all was not well between the BJP and Varun Gandhi.
Ideologically, once seen as a Hindutva hot head, Varun Gandhi seemed to have drifted to a more left of center position and this at a time when the Narendra Modi led BJP had captured power at the center. There were signs that relations between the two branches of the Gandhi family were thawing. Gandhi cousins were reported to have exchanged SMSs, Congress was tweeting on Sanjay Gandhi’s death anniversary, Sonia Gandhi was visiting Sanjay Gandhi’s samadhi and many others. Varun Gandhi was one of the hopefuls as UP BJP’s CM face but that did not materialize. Varun Gandhi seemed to be drifting away from the party, critiquing its policies and programmes through his writings. The Congress on its part, continued its efforts to poach Varun from BJP. For one, Varun Gandhi is politically smart, he is well read and he is a powerful orator. Varun Gandhi’s return to the Congress would deflate BJP’s claims on a Gandhi mukt Bharat. If recent happenings are anything to go by, it seems that the break between Varun Gandhi and BJP is almost complete.
The issue of granting asylum to Rohingya Muslims is being agitatedly debated in the country. The BJP has taken a line that the Rohingyas are susceptible to fundamentalism and pose a security risk. The government is believed to be working on a plan to deport them from the country. Amidst all this, Varun Gandhi has come out all guns blazing supporting the cause of Rohingyas.
In an article written by him, Varun Gandhi has asked the government to grant asylum to the Rohingyas, in view of the international treaties that the country is party to and also in view of India’s rich tradition of helping the refugees. Varun Gandhi’s comments have invited a severe reprimand from the government. Minister of State for Home Affairs, Hansraj Ahir, slammed Varun Gandhi for taking a line which is against National interest. Varun Gandhi later tweeted that expressing empathy for the Rohingyas whose case could be considered on individual merit and that he didn’t mean to defy government policy.
It now seems that the marriage between Varun Gandhi and the BJP is in choppy waters now. Ideologically, Varun Gandhi has drifted far away from the BJP’s line. His left of center position is now closer to that of the Congress than ever before.