Firebrand hardliner and junior Gandhi scion Varun, is set to play a larger role in the BJP’s election campaign in the forthcoming assembly elections in MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi. According to BJP estimates, Varun Gandhi on the basis of a famous family surname and a penchant for minority bashing and aggressive intent, is seen as a crowd puller and this is the first time when he will campaign outside UP.
BJP leaders are, however, aware of Varun Gandhi’s acidic tongue and a little apprehensive about his strategy for attacking minorities, which may rock the carefully-cultivated development paradigm that the party is pursuing with intent in its run up to the elections.
Varun Gandhi has largely remained in the background since his 2009 general election campaign in Pilibhit in UP from where he won the Lok Sabha seat. The campaign became infamous when Varun delivered his now well known hate speech against Muslims in a way that shocked even some Hindutva hardliners within the BJP. According to party insiders, the BJP has planned to introduce new colourful faces in its election campaign and Varun Gandhi tops that list of speakers known to be popular with the Hindutva crowd. On November 16 and 17, he will address meetings in Chhattisgarh; on November 21 and 22 he will campaign in Madhya Pradesh, the next two days Varun will be in Rajasthan and on November 25 and 26, he will make his presence felt in Delhi.
There is a concerted plan of action here, says a senior BJP leader. “If Varun is found to be making an impact in the assembly elections, he would be prepared for the larger battle ahead in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls,’’ he points out.
Party leaders say that while his hate speeches in 2009 had led to a major political flap - the Election Commission had to intervene and Varun awarded a simple imprisonment - his vitriol may have actually helped the BJP redeem its position somewhat in the politically crucial UP where its fortunes had shrunk considerably. The RSS, which was initially apprehensive about Varun returning to the Congress fold, is also more assured of the Gandhi scion’s commitment to the BJP cause, one of the reasons why he has been elevated from being a secretary in the party to the influential position of general secretary in BJP president Rajnath Singh’s new team announced earlier this year.
Despite this comfort zone, not everyone in the BJP is enthused. In the four assembly elections, development is the BJP’s central theme and if Varun decides to shoot from the hip as he did in UP’s Pilibhit in 2009, there could be problems. The party is aware that even a Hindutva hardliner like Narendra Modi is careful not to touch on emotive issues and instead harp on development. In such circumstances, if Varun decides to go back to hard line Hindutva, it will open up a front which the BJP can do well without.
Not only will it give the struggling Congress a stick to beat the saffronites with, it could well alter the dynamics of the polls. The BJP is aware that there is a significant presence of minority voters in the four states and it would not help their case should the ‘younger Gandhi’ serve the Hindutva platter to the opposition parties.
There is another problem with a loose cannon like Varun: he rarely listens to advice from his party men, has his own independent mind and is not afraid of speaking it out - irrespective of the consequences. That can hardly be described as an organisation man. Says a BJP leader: “that is one of the reasons why he was not asked to head the BJP’s Yuva Morcha, despite being qualified to do so and inspite of many requests from BJP cadres to put him upfront.” By including him in the current campaign, the party believes it is taking a chance; but equally it believes it is a chance worth taking.
BJP’s sloppy distribution of party tickets has helped Congress retrieve some of its lost ground in Delhi.
The main question doing the rounds of Delhi is this: will Chief Minister Sheila Dixit return for a record fourth time? In her New Delhi constituency, her main rival is Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal. The BJP candidate from the seat, Vijendra Gupta, is a relative lightweight.
Importantly, while Harshwardhan’s late appointment as BJP chief has been welcomed, the choice of party candidates and some tickets which have been distributed has led to much heart burn within the BJP, giving Congress a possible edge in Delhi. In the national capital, the BJP’s policy of giving tickets to new faces has come up a cropper. In 25 percent of assembly seats, old faces have been repeated. In some instances, tickets have been distributed to candidates who have lost two successive elections. In five Muslim-dominated and 12 Dalit seats, the BJP has put up relatively weak candidates.
Says veteran Delhi observer Manoj Mishra: “The BJP has been unable to put up strong candidates against Congress ministers. Even in well known BJP strongholds, the party has given tickets to lightweights.”
In addition, the party has followed hallowed dynastic traditions: Parvesh Verma, son of former Delhi chief minister Sahib Singh Verma, Ajay Malhotra, son of veteran VK Malhotra and Rajeev Babbar, son of senior leader OP Babbar have been given assembly tickets.
The big problem for the BJP is that none of its senior leaders are willing to contest against Sheila Dixit: three leaders Arun Jaitley, VK Malhotra and party spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi turned down the proposal, leaving the field relatively open for Sheila Dixit to return for a record fourth time.