The Telegraph
Monday , August 18 , 2014
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Rahul down, question on power of ‘G’

New Delhi, Aug. 17: To many in the BJP, this week’s snub to Varun Gandhi is no less a snub to his cousin Rahul Gandhi.

Party sources today conjectured that Varun had been dropped as a general secretary because the leadership, seeing Rahul’s dwindling fortunes, decided it no longer needed a “counter” to the Congress vice-president.

A BJP national executive member underlined that “the whole idea” of getting Varun and mother Maneka into the party had been “to counter Sonia and Rahul”.

He cited how, at the duo’s February 2004 induction, chief strategist Pramod Mahajan had boasted the BJP could now “proudly claim we have a great-grandson of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and a great-great-grandson of Motilal Nehru in our midst”.

Mahajan had spoken of a “vacuum getting filled” — an allusion to perhaps a secret yearning for dynastic sheen that had now visited the party with the added bonus of a breach in the arch-rival’s “first family”.

“But the context has now changed,” the BJP source told The Telegraph. “The Gandhi surname no longer resonates with the young as it did with my peers and forebears. See how young people rejected Rahul and embraced the much older Modi this election.”

Rahul’s declining popularity was visible also in the way he trailed the BJP’s Smriti Irani in the first few rounds of counting from Amethi before a rather belated surge ensured a comfortable win.

“With Rahul’s credibility low, I believe Varun is no longer that useful to us,” the source said. “My reading is that the Congress can revive under Priyanka but that scenario is full of ifs and buts.”

But another party official disagreed with the “counter” theory, arguing there could be no comparison between Rahul, “a first among equals” in his party, and a Varun who is “one among several” in his.

“Varun may personally have wanted to grandstand against his cousin by contesting from neighbouring Sultanpur instead of faraway Pilibhit (which he won the last time) but the party has no such agenda,” he said.

“Not under Narendra Modi anyway. Modi is not enamoured of famous political surnames the way some others in the party are.”

Sure enough, when Varun was left out of new party president Amit Shah’s team, he was bluntly told that his “affronts” to Modi had not been forgotten.

Varun had initially refused to share poster space with Modi during his Sultanpur campaign. His cheerleaders claimed he wanted to prove he could win independently of the “Modi wave”.

In Sultanpur, the jury was divided over whether the Gandhi tag and his personal “charisma” had powered Varun’s victory or Modi had.

Besides, Varun had allegedly told journalists that the size of the Calcutta crowd at Modi’s February 7 rally was “just one-fourth” what the BJP’s trumpeters were claiming. “The rally was okay,” was what Varun purportedly said. That to Modi and Shah was simply not okay.

But the latest setback seems not to have deterred Varun. His Facebook page is replete with posts from a Varun Gandhi Youth Brigade that has started an online campaign to make him the next Uttar Pradesh chief minister.

“There’s no doubt that he stands out among his BJP contemporaries in Uttar Pradesh. He is charismatic, is known across the state and has pedigree,” said a spokesperson who confessed he wasn’t a Varun “fan”.

He wouldn’t rule out Varun’s star rising again: “The Gandhis may be down and out but a setback or two can’t snuff out their aura.”

The state polls will be due in the spring of 2017. Varun’s competition includes Rajnath’s son Pankaj and Kalyan Singh’s son Rajveer. If the Modi-Shah duo’s stranglehold continues, however, the chances of a dynast making the cut appear remote.