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Maneka tests Varun waters

Maneka Gandhi and Varun

Lucknow, Aug. 4: The Uttar Pradesh BJP today distanced itself from Maneka Gandhi’s claim that a government headed by her son Varun would have by now put the heartland back on track from its current “state of decline” under Samajwadi rule.

The party’s state unit chief said it was Maneka’s “personal opinion”, two days after the Union minister’s comment raised eyebrows in the faction-ridden organisation.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh, a former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and known to be fond of the young general secretary, refused comment.

Maneka, minister for women and child development at the Centre, was visiting her constituency Pilibhit on Saturday when she made the comment while criticising the state government and Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.

She said Uttar Pradesh was “in a state of decline” because of the Samajwadi Party. “There is a BJP government at the Centre and an SP government in UP. Ever since the BJP won the Lok Sabha elections, SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav stopped all development work in the state. He appears to be trying to humiliate BJP MPs by this mean action.”

In a statement to the media late in the day, a Samajwadi spokesperson denied Maneka’s allegation.

The BJP had swept the Lok Sabha elections in the state, winning 71 of the 80 seats in the crucial heartland in its stunning march to power at the Centre.

What Maneka possibly meant was that by stopping all development work, the Samajwadi’s plan was to hem her newly elected party MPs in so they don’t get the chance to build on the BJP’s revival in the state.

The bit on Varun followed next.

Agar UP mein hamari sarkar hoti to hamne vikas ke kaam shuru kar diye hote. Agar UP me Varun BJP sarkar chala rahe hote, to achchha hota. Woh Pilibhit ke liye achchha hota (had the BJP been in power in the state, we would have initiated development works. And it would have been wonderful if Varun were running the BJP government in the state. It would also have been great for Pilibhit),” Maneka said.

Varun, 34, who was recently made a party general secretary, represents Sultanpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Maneka, who distributed aids to 567 handicapped children at an event, got a rousing welcome at her constituency but her statement, which appeared to be a trial balloon to test her son’s acceptability as a potential chief minister, triggered controversy that reached the party’s state headquarters in Lucknow today.

Asked about Maneka’s comments regarding Varun, new state unit president Laskhmikant Bajpai said: “This surely is Maneka Gandhi’s personal opinion. Isn’t it too premature to comment on such issues?”

Party sources said there were several contenders for the chair in the divided organisation that new national president Amit Shah had managed to bind together in the lead-up to the summer elections.

If former chief minister Kalyan Singh is a potential contender, so are Union minister Kalraj Singh and Bajpai, they said.

A senior BJP leader said vice-president Vinay Katiyar and Rajnath’s son Pankaj Singh, who is also a general secretary, were also potential “aspirants”.

“As far as Varun Gandhi is concerned, he is yet to show his ability to get along with the party’s state leaders. He normally keeps away from state politics,” the leader said.