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Mother’s lap then, father’s memory now

Lucknow, Feb. 11: Varun Gandhi today kicked off his campaign in Sultanpur, recalling his late father’s ties and saying he first came in his “mother’s lap” to the Gandhi backyard from where he is likely to be fielded by the BJP.

“You might not know when I was here the first time. That was when I was in my mother’s lap. I have returned here now as a manů to shoulder your burden. Let me work here for you in the memory of my father,” Varun, who is likely to shift from his current seat Pilibhit, told a Sultanpur rally that followed a road show and street-corner meetings.

The BJP national general secretary may have been alluding to his mother Maneka’s 1982 visit while campaigning for the Rashtriya Sanjay Vichar Manch, an outfit she had floated after her husband’s death in 1980, old-timers said.

“Varun was born in March 1980, three months before Sanjay Gandhi died in June that year in a plane crash. But his mother Maneka visited Sultanpur in 1982 after she left Indira Gandhi’s home. He (Varun) may have been recalling that,” said Niraj Tripathi, a 68-year-old Sultanpur resident who once worked for the Congress.

Varun played on nostalgia, speaking of a “divine” command and highlighting his father’s legacy, often in his speech. “I have been sent here by god to fulfil my father’s ambitions for you. This was my father’s place of work.”

Sultanpur borders Amethi, Rahul Gandhi’s constituency that was part of the district before being carved out.

Once Varun is officially fielded from Sultanpur — he is likely to figure on the BJP’s first list of 30 nominees from Uttar Pradesh expected soon — the presence of the Gandhis will span three contiguous constituencies, including Sonia Gandhi’s seat Rae Bareli.

Although no member from Sonia’s family is likely to challenge Varun, some BJP workers fear Rahul’s campaign in neighbouring Amethi could be a distraction. The Congress plans to field Amita Singh, the wife of Sanjay Singh, who was the MP from Sultanpur. Sanjay Singh was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam last week.

Varun made no mention of his cousin or aunt in his speech today but tagged Amethi as a “backward” pocket in the area alongside others represented by the first family of the ruling Samajwadis in Uttar Pradesh.

“There has not been much development here, like in Kannauj (represented in the Lok Sabha by chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple) and Amethi. I wonder why. Give me a chance to write a new history in Sultanpur.”

Varun cited his record as the MP from Pilibhit, around 300km away, to promise he would do the same and more for Sultanpur.

“I worked a lot in Pilibhit. In Sultanpur, I will dedicate myself to the development of the district that was once my father’s constituency.” Sanjay Gandhi had won the 1980 elections from Amethi when it was still part of Sultanpur.

But some wondered whether Varun had decided to shift his constituency to reconnect with his father’s legacy or to return Pilibhit to his mother Maneka, who used to represent it earlier. She is now the MP from neighbouring Aonla.

BSP leader Pawan Pandey said: “Varun Gandhi tends to exaggerate. And he is unnecessarily getting sentimental, as if this is his first visit to Sultanpur since then (the early eighties). Varun was here in May last year with Nitin Gadkari and had told a rally then that it was his homecoming.”