BJP looks for a Gandhi vs Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh

New Delhi/Bulandshahr, Feb 11 (Calcutta Tube) With Rahul Gandhi creating a storm in Uttar Pradesh, particularly among the young and the disempowered with his whirlwind ‘mass contact’ tours, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to counter it with its own Gandhi as the recent visit to western Uttar Pradesh by Varun Gandhi, the party’s youngest MP, suggests.

People close to Varun Gandhi say the ‘other Gandhi’ is slowly and carefully preparing for a larger role in the state as the party thinks it can capitalise on his youthful appeal, his family background and oratory to power a BJP revival in a state where the party could get only 10 out of 80 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections.

‘There is a big and influential section within the BJP that wants a bigger role for him in the state. They want a young person to be its face in Uttar Pradesh. Some people even want him to be the face of the party’s youth wing as the party lacks youth leaders,’ said a party source from the state.

‘Despite having senior leaders from Uttar Pradesh, the party is in shambles in the state. They have lost their charm and pull. But good numbers have been witnessed at Varun’s rallies or public meetings,’ the source, who did not wish to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media, told IANS.

Varun recently held a rally in Sultanpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh, followed by one at Bulandshahr in the western region of the state.

Giving an indication of what lies ahead, one of his aides told IANS: ‘Several meetings and rallies are planned in different parts of Uttar Pradesh in the next few months besides regular meetings in his constituency Pilibhit.’

Pilibhit was a constituency that he inherited from his mother Maneka Gandhi, former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s other daughter-in-law, who vacated the seat for her son whom she is grooming for a larger political role ranged against his estranged cousin, Rahul Gandhi, and aunt, Sonia Gandhi, the Congress president.

The Uttar Pradesh assembly elections are scheduled for 2012. In the 2007 elections to the 404-member legislative assembly, the BJP won 48 seats while the Congress won 20.

But its improved showing in the last Lok Sabha elections — due to a number of reasons varying from loan waiver for farmers, rural employment guarantee scheme and the charisma of Rahul Gandhi — has given the Congress high hopes of revival in the state. In the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress had been able to garner only nine seats while the BJP retained its 10 seats.

Varun’s lineage might be a bonus point for the BJP, but his track record of making controversial speeches has landed it in trouble more than once. The 30-year-old parliamentarian, who won from Pilibhit by nearly 300,000 votes, first courted controversy over his reported hate speeches during his election campaign in March last year. It resulted in the local police registering cases against him and he spent about 20 days in jail.

The latest problem arose at a rally in Bulandshahr last week when he equated union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar with mythological demon king Ravana and said state Chief Minister Mayawati was his sister Surpanakha. He accused the two leaders of being ‘mainly responsible’ for inflation in the country and said that both ‘indulge in blame game when it comes to containing inflation’.

Explaining the party’s dilemma, the source said: ‘There is no consensus among party leaders over him. Some believe giving such a huge responsibility to him in Uttar Pradesh can upset some senior leaders.’

‘They are also of the view that the country’s youth no more believe in communal politics and considering Varun’s record the move may backfire not just in the state but across the country,’ he added.

But seeing his popularity in Bulandshahr, where hundreds of people, mostly farmers, anxiously waited for a glimpse of the Gandhi in the saffron camp, BJP leaders might have to plan how to cash in on his popularity – minus the controversy.

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