The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP or Cong, dynasty can’t lose

New Delhi, Feb. 16: Feroze Varun became the first of the fifth-generation Nehru-Gandhis to formally join politics, raising the tantalising possibility of a BJP Gandhi fighting against a Congress Gandhi for the country’s leadership.

After dynasty-bashing for decades, the BJP today acquired a mother and son at one go with the added satisfaction of sealing a political split in the Nehru-Gandhi family for another generation.

Maneka, the younger bahu of the family, and her son joined the BJP, announcing their decision in the presence of party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and general secretary Pramod Mahajan, who was instrumental in roping them in.

Maneka did not mention her political lineage in the written statement handed to reporters, but Varun did harp on it. “Historically, my family has been part of the Congress and has led it through its most glorious era. I do believe, however, that what my family was true to was not a party, but a value system, a tradition of self-sacrifice, national pride and independence of spirit. Naturally, I shall always remain loyal to these ideals,” he said.

Before formally joining the party, the mother and son met Atal Bihari Vajpayee this morning. When Varun told the Prime Minister that he would release a statement to the media, Vajpayee asked him what kind of announcement he had prepared. Varun replied: “I am basically a poet and a writer and I will not disappoint you.”

Maneka, who fell out with her mother-in-law Indira Gandhi after her husband Sanjay Gandhi died, said the family saga was history. “We are far too old now to be projected as bahus. I have been in public life for a long time and a minister four times. I have issues that are close to my heart. This projection of anyone as anyone apart from what we intrinsically are.…” She smiled without completing the sentence.

Party sources said Varun would join the BJP’s youth wing and campaign, though they were not sure whether he would visit the Amethi-Rae Bareli-Sultanpur area from where Congress chief Sonia Gandhi will contest.

Asked if he would campaign in the Gandhi-Nehru borough, Varun said: “I will try hard not to campaign against Rahul and Priyanka because family and party are separate. But I will follow my party’s ideals.”

Asked whether he would attack Sonia, Rahul and Priyanka in his speeches, Varun said: “I don’t believe in attacking anybody. I will not run a negative campaign. It will be a campaign based on the progressive agenda of the BJP and the NDA for building a golden future for our future generations.”

But he made it clear that Sonia’s foreign origin was not the overriding issue for the polls. “Foreign origin is an issue but not the main issue. The main issues are development, governance and Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s stature.”

Varun said the BJP is not a communal party. “It is a large-hearted party. I met the Prime Minister, the deputy Prime Minister, Venkaiah Naidu and Pramod Mahajan and they all came through as liberal, progressive and forward-thinking.”

NDA sources said Maneka, who apparently realised it was more prudent to have the backing of a party’s apparatus rather than fight as an Independent, was keen on joining the Akali Dal. A Sikh herself, her Lok Sabha seat is dominated by Sikhs and Muslims. Sources said she felt an Akali symbol would help her retain the support of Muslims. But the word from the BJP was that if she did not join, the party would be “forced” to put up a candidate against her.

Mahajan first spoke to Varun and reportedly convinced him he had a “bright” future in politics, provided his skills were honed by the “right” people. The BJP, Mahajan is said to have told him, had no dearth of political tutors.

Once Varun’s mind was made up, Maneka followed suit.

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