Varun Gandhi is no lightweight in Uttar Pradesh politics. Yet Bharatiya Janata Party’s current leadership of Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have often been accused of ignoring him. Until last year, Gandhi was being seen as Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) best bet to be the party’s chief ministerial face in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. At 36, the member of Parliament from Sultanpur has often been viewed as BJP’s answer to rival youth faces such as incumbent Samajwadi Party CM Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi.
However, as we got closer to the crucial poll, the prospects of Varun Gandhi as Uttar Pradesh’s next leader started to dim. Gandhi’s influential supporters in UP, which include several MPs, say his shot at chief ministership has been sabotaged by the BJP national leadership. According to a NDTV news report, five MPs from Uttar Pradesh were told off by Shah after they went to him to lobby for a greater role for Gandhi in the election.
NDTV quoted a dissident attacking Amit Shah for sidelining Varun Gandhi.
“Amit Shah is scared of Bhaiyyaji. Why else would they mistreat him like this? The BJP will suffer in UP because of this,” a former BJP leader and Gandhi supporter, who is also contesting as an independent, was quoted as saying.
In fact, anti-party sentiment is running so high among Gandhi’s supporters, many of whom have also been denied party ticket despite being recommended by the MP himself, that many of them are reportedly contesting the election as independents. According to an NDTV article, at least 45 Varun Gandhi loyalists who were denied a BJP ticket are fighting the election anyway. Many of them are likely to eat into the vote share of the BJP.
Swami Pravaktanand, contesting as an Independent from Barkhera, reportedly said, “For me, the BJP was Varun Gandhi, and I am contesting to avenge his honour. Bhaiyyaji has been betrayed, and while he may be holding his peace, we cannot do so. He should have been the Chief Ministerial face. When I win, I will surrender my victory to Bhaiyyaji.”
For further evidence as to how the saffron party has completely avoided Gandhi, look no further than BJP’s choice of star campaigners for the election. Despite being one of more popular MPs among BJP’s cadres in Uttar Pradesh, the two-time MP barely managed to make it to the star campaigner list. His name was at 39th in the second list of 40 high-profile campaigners. Following the release of the list, Gandhi has reportedly refused to electioneer at all.
Not only among party workers, Gandhi is also said to be immensely popular among his constituents. He was one of the first MPs in India to spend the full allotted sum of the development fund on works in his constituency. The Gandhi scion is also reportedly viewed favourably among Muslim and Dalit voters in the state.
One of his more popular initiatives involved redistributing wealth by encouraging the rich to donate to nearly 4,000 debt-laden farmers in nearly 30 districts across Uttar Pradesh. NDTV notes that many of these farmers were Dalit and Muslim. Though he started out as a polarising figure campaigning on the platform of Hindutva, observers claim that he has mellowed with age and works for the welfare for all.
What’s even worse for the BJP, the party is facing another internal rebellion from backers of influential Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath. His hardcore right-wing supporters are reportedly contesting from six seats in western Uttar Pradesh against BJP candidates, another factor that’s going to have bearing on party’s eventual vote share.
BJP clearly is not in a good shape going into the Uttar Pradesh election.