The loss that changed Varun Gandhi’s life and politics

The loss that changed Varun Gandhi’s life and politics

Swati Chaturvedi, Special to Gulf News

The loss of his four-month-old daughter Aadya Priyadarshini, who died in his arms in 2011, transformed Feroze Varun Gandhi. He had named her after Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, the grandmother he adored. Gandhi was her favourite grandchild.

The son of Sanjay and Maneka Gandhi, with all its attendant baggage, Feroze as he is called by close friends, was forced to live out his mother’s break from the Gandhi family, which included joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), yet maintaining an extremely fond relationship with his cousins Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.

A close friend says: “Before Feroze used to shout, but after Aadya’s death he whispers – you have to strain to hear him.”

Gandhi took a two-month break, barely speaking to anyone and rethought his entire life and choices, say people close to him.

The nature of his schizophrenic relationship with the BJP, the bond of pain and trauma he had with his mother, who he had seen struggling all his life, Feroze literally sat down at the drawing board and worked on himself.

He chose to let go of fear, the friend said, when I asked what had changed. “When you lose a child, what can the loss of a party post or an election mean?”

Conversely, this made the youngest Gandhi – he is 38 – understand the pain his grandmother had gone through when her favourite son and political heir Sanjay died.

Gandhi was sent to Harrow to study, following in the footsteps of his great grandfather, India’s first Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru. He had to be withdrawn after two years for security reasons when his uncle Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated.

From the top hats of Harrow, he was sent to Rishi valley, where students occasionally sat under trees to study. Gandhi has, perhaps, had the most bewildering life. He was a published poet at the age of 20 with his volume called The Otherness of Self-Illustrated by M.F. Hussain. His new book A Rural Manifesto – Realising India’s Future Through Her Villages – will come out this week.

So why did the introverted, shy and cerebral Gandhi make that infamous speech in 2009 where he allegedly threatened to cut off people’s hands for which he was sent to jail by the Election Commission? He fought a case defending himself, saying he did not say any such a thing and that the tape was doctored.

Gandhi has set out to deliberately burn his bridges with the BJP after the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo took over the party. Shah stripped him of all posts, as a punishment for refusing to speak against his cousins, but Gandhi did not seem to care. The BJP high command asked him to contest against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, but he refused.

He was taunted by the leader, making the offer “are you scared?” And Gandhi is said to have replied: “I don’t think we should reduce politics to a tamasha (spectacle).”

Initially, the BJP made much of Gandhi as he was appointed the youngest-ever general secretary of the party. In the Modi era, with his visceral hatred of the Gandhi name, Feroze was completely sidelined.

Gandhi has refused to share a stage with Modi except for one occasion in West Bengal. As Shah sought to sideline him, Gandhi tried to reach out to young people by going on lecture tours across the country in virtually all colleges. He also writes a syndicated column, which appears across newspapers in the country. Gandhi keeps taking pot shots at the policies being followed by the Modi government. But since the Modi government is famously anti-intellectual, he has so far escaped censure, perhaps with no one in the BJP reading his columns.

Pushed to the margins, Gandhi who is married to the great granddaughter of C.R. Das Yamini, who is a well-known graphics designer, seems to have decided to say goodbye to the BJP.

“It’s like he is being punished for doing the right things,” says a friend indignantly. Gandhi has built houses for the poor and also paid off farmers’ debts to ensure that his bond with Uttar Pradesh remains intact. He has never drawn even a single day’s salary from parliament.

Gandhi is strategic. He started a company called Rajdhani, an analytics business for commodity trading, before he joined politics to ensure that he could always fund himself. From wanting to be a human rights lawyer to a multiple term Member of Parliament, the one thing you can safely predict is that this Gandhi is going to remain in politics, but will not be contesting the upcoming election on a BJP ticket.

So will it be the expected home coming to the Congress?

Going by his turbulent life, even Gandhi, perhaps, does not have the answer. Aadya’s loss made him a new person. Anasuya, his second daughter, was born in 2014 and Gandhi ensures he spends hours with her daily. She may help him find answers.