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Sidelined by BJP, shunned by family over ‘ideology’: The dilemma of being Varun Gandhi

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has said that his cousin Varun has a different ideology. The statement seems to limit options for the Pilibhit MP, who’s been a vocal Modi govt critic.

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New Delhi: Rahul Gandhi Tuesday virtually ruled out the possibility of his cousin and BJP MP Varun Gandhi joining the Congress, saying that the latter believes in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s (RSS) ideology. This came amid intense speculation in political circles about the Pilibhit MP exploring options, given how he has been raising issues contrary to party lines. His closeness to his cousins, especially Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi, further fuelled such speculation.

“He’s in the BJP (and) he may have a problem if he walks here,” Rahul Gandhi said during the Punjab leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.

“My ideology does not match his. My ideology (is), I can never go to the RSS office. I’ll have to be beheaded. My family has an ideology and a thought system. Varun at one time, maybe even now, has adopted that ideology and made it his own. I cannot accept that. I can meet him with love (and) hug him but cannot accept that ideology. It’s impossible. Family is different,” he added. 

The remarks seemingly highlight the dilemma that the now-sidelined BJP leader currently faces. 

In the last few years, the three-time MP from Pilibhit, a constituency that his mother, former Union minister and BJP leader Maneka Gandhi previously represented, has been seen as being increasingly disgruntled with the BJP government’s policies.   

Once part of the powerful national executive of the BJP, Varun has been highly critical of the Modi government over a range of issues, among them the controversial Agnipath short-term army recruitment policy and the now-repealed farm laws.    

It was in the wake of his criticism of the latter, in fact, that Varun, whose mother Maneka was part of the Modi 1.0 Cabinet, was removed from the BJP national executive committee in 2021.

Under these circumstances, Rahul Gandhi’s statement about his cousin is significant, especially given how it seems to effectively limit options for the Pilibhit MP. 

ThePrint reached Varun Gandhi over calls, WhatsApp, and text messages. This article will be updated when a response is received.

Also Read: To ‘jodo’ Congress, Rahul Gandhi needs to pick his poison — power or philosophy

Hate speech to BJP criticism

In his interaction with the media in Punjab, Rahul claimed that years ago, he had heard Varun praise the RSS and that he had then urged his cousin to read his own family history. 

“Had you done so you would never have said this,” Rahul said, quoting himself as having said then.

Although most of his recent public statements both on Twitter and in newspaper articles have bordered on criticism of the BJP and its various governments both in the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh, Varun was once a promising young Turk of the BJP with fiery oratory skills. 

In 2013, when now Union defence minister Rajnath Singh was the BJP national president, Varun was appointed national general secretary of the party. He was, however, dropped from the post by Singh’s successor Amit Shah in August 2014. 

The Pilibhit MP has been in trouble over allegations of hate speeches too — in 2009, he was booked, and even arrested, two “inflammatory” speeches in Pilbhit, although he was eventually acquitted in both cases.

Many viewed his angry-young-man persona as a conscious effort to project himself as a chief ministerial face for the BJP in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, although, when the time came to make the choice, it was Gorakhpur MP Adityanath who made the cut. 

Despite this, his position in the national executive was testimony to Varun’s stature in the BJP even though he was never given the royal treatment that his cousins got in the Congress.

Gradually, however, Varun’s tone began changing, first to a more left-of-centre approach and then to open criticism of the policies of the BJP government. 

Today, his Twitter timeline reads more like an opposition MP’s than that of one from the treasury benches. For instance, this month alone saw the BJP MP post at least two tweets that were critical of both the Modi and Yogi governments.

On 7 January, Varun demanded that the central government release the Rs 50 lakh that it had promised as compensation for patients suffering from rare diseases.    

“Last year, the govt assured financial assistance of Rs 50 lakh to every rare disease patient. So far, not a single patient has benefited from this scheme. 10 children have died waiting for treatment,” said one tweet tagging health minister Mansukh Mandaviya. The tweet also had a photo of Varun’s letter to the health minister on the matter.


Then on 13 January, he tweeted a video of a protest by shikhsha mitras (ad hoc teachers) in Lucknow. He asked why their grievances were not being addressed and accused the government of remembering these teachers only during elections. 

Among his most significant differences with the BJP government was his stance on the now-repealed farm laws. In a piece he wrote in the Indian Express in April 2020, he questioned the way the farm bills were passed by Parliament.

The farm laws were for many months the most sensitive issue for the BJP government, which had initially refused to back down even after farmers camped on the roads for months to register their protest.

“Of India’s 543 Lok Sabha seats, 250 are occupied by politicians who profess to be farmers. And yet, few, if any, of these ‘farmers’ were able to raise their voices on the debate on the three farm laws in Parliament,” he wrote.  

Cousin love?

Varun’s dogged takedowns of a government that he is bound to support in Parliament in the event of a whip have, for several years, given rise to the speculation that he may be headed to the Congress — a party that his father Sanjay had been viewed as the natural successor of before his untimely death in 1980.

Despite differences between Sonia and Maneka, the impression of Varun being close to Priyanka has persisted, adding to the rumour mills.

Varun had even gone to Sonia’s residence to invite them to his wedding in 2011, although nobody in that family turned up for the nuptials.

On her part, Priyanka has been careful about her criticism of her cousin. 

Campaigning in Amethi in 2015, Priyanka had urged Congress workers to show Varun the right path as he had gone “astray”. 

In an interview with a TV channel in 2019, Varun said that he has “formal relations” with Priyanka Gandhi.

Praise for Akhilesh Yadav

Not only has Varun been critical of the BJP government, but he has, in one instance, even gone so far as to praise Opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav.  

Speaking at a function in his own constituency recently, he recalled an incident that occurred when Samajwadi Party chief Yadav was the chief minister of the state.  

Varun wanted to study the socioeconomic conditions that push a man to commit suicide, he said. 

“So I wrote to him (Yadav) saying there is no politics in this but if we can get a list of people in UP who meet these benchmarks… he immediately called his officials and showing a big heart said there is no politics so the information should be provided. We got a list of 42,000 people,” he said.

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy) 

Also Read: Functionality or political message? Rahul’s beard in Bharat Jodo Yatra a matter of debate



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