New Delhi, April 15: 2014 has reopened the wounds of 1984, when Maneka Gandhi’s decision to challenge Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi had ended young Varun’s fortnightly visits to cousins Rahul and Priyanka.
Apart from the bitterness, Maneka’s two-month absence from Delhi had stopped four-year-old Varun from meeting his “didi” and “bhaiya”.
Thirty years later, the two sides of the Gandhi family are again ranged against each other as Varun stakes claim to a slice of the Nehru-Gandhi legacy in Sultanpur, which together with Rae Bareli and Amethi makes up a cluster of seats identified with the family.
“This is not a family tea party. It is an ideological war,” Priyanka said today, stressing she did not regret the leak of a video that shows her telling Congress workers that Varun had gone “astray”.
Without mentioning an alleged hate speech for which Varun was arrested but has since been cleared in court, she said: “He made certain comments in the last election that I strongly disagree with. It’s a betrayal of my family…. My father died for this country, for its unity. I cannot disrespect that.”
Priyanka, who is in Amethi to campaign for Rahul and mother Sonia, continued: “Nobody, no matter how close they are, as blood relations… even if it is my son, if they are going to be on that side of the ideological spectrum, then these are my beliefs. I feel it is a betrayal of my family.”
The Gandhi daughter repeatedly said she could not overlook Varun’s views. Speaking to a television channel, she iterated: “I could not overlook them even if it were for my own child.”
Varun, who filed his nomination today as the BJP candidate from Sultanpur, hit back. “I am a national general secretary of a political party and won the 2009 Lok Sabha polls by over three lakh votes. What is she talking about?” Varun said to The Telegraph. He said he was within his rights to contest from Sultanpur and if some were feeling “insecure”, he would not care.
“I am Varun Gandhi, that is why I am here before you. Had I been Varun Dixit, Varun Yadav or Varun Kumar, I would have not been here,” he said in Sultanpur.
He also used the occasion to hail the leadership of Narendra Modi, whom he had not mentioned so far during the campaign. “The country needs strong leadership. Narendra Modi is a strong leader,” Varun said.
The Gandhis have repeatedly said this election is a battle of ideologies, with the Congress standing for unity and the Modi-led BJP for uniformity and hatred. In the past, Priyanka has said that their grandmother Indira Gandhi and Varun’s father Sanjay Gandhi would not have approved of his joining the BJP.
In a statement on Twitter today, Varun said: “In the last few days, a few statements have been made... my inherent decency and large-heartedness should not be construed as weakness by anyone.”
Family friends regretted the war of words. “So far, the two sides had kept a facade of not attacking each other publicly but the barrier has been broken. Given the bad blood between Sonia and Maneka, the young generation is unlikely to patch up in the near future,” a Congress leader claiming to be a well-wisher of Sanjay and Rajiv said.
Reacting to charges that Sonia was the “super Prime Minister” in UPA, Priyanka today said: “Only Manmohan Singh was super PM.”