Varun and the Ghost of Sanjay Gandhi
By Mubasshir Mushtaq
What happens when the ghosts of a powerful past return to haunt a man whose father was the de facto prime minister of India in the 70s? Varun Gandhi could have learned a lesson history taught his father but instead he chose venom over the history. Varun Gandhi could have become the Rahul Gandhi of today had history been on his side. But alas, history is not a narration of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. History does not allow anybody to remain permanently powerful. Sanjay Gandhi, Varun’s father, was an extremely powerful politician and Indira Gandhi’s “favoured son.” He was a man in great hurry. On the fateful day of June 23, 1980, Sanjay was flying a single-engine plane for fun. He did three loops in the air but probably was not satisfied. He tried a fourth but lost control. The young dream came crashing down; so did the aspirations of his wife Maneka and son Varun Gandhi.
The fate of Sanjay Gandhi’s family can be summed up in one line: Power followed by powerlessness.
Indira Gandhi’s elevation of her son has been described as ‘feudal’. Eminent historian Ramchandra Guha has rightly remarked, “And just as sons of Mughal emperors were once given a suba (province) to run before taking over the kingdom itself, Sanjay was asked to look after affairs in India’s capital city.”
29-year old Varun Gandhi’s life journey has been characteristically marked by a steep decline of his family. Varun Gandhi was barely three months old when Sanjay Gandhi died in the accident. Sanjay’s death marked the beginning of an era dominated by Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv’s miraculous rise eclipsed Maneka and Varun Gandhi. A feeling of loss must be etched in the memory of Varun Gandhi.
So what was Varun Gandhi thinking when he spew venom against Indian Muslims and Mahatma Gandhi, father of the nation? How can a man – who studied in the liberal tradition of London School of Economics and Political Science – be communal? Perhaps he was following in his father’s footsteps whose obsessive preference was to be always in the news.
Sanjay Gandhi was the darling of Indian media in the 70s. Sanjay’s “chief cheerleader and trumpeter” was none other than Khushwant Singh himself who devoted pages and pages of photographs accompanied by flattering text in the famous The Illustrated Weekly of India. All India Radio (AIR) and the state-run television channel Doordharshan also used to pay much more attention to Sanjay. Facts would put AIR and Doordharshan to shame. In a single year alone, 192 “news items” were broadcast about Sanjay from the Delhi station of AIR. In the same period, Doordharshan telecast 265 bulletins about Sanjay’s activities. What more when Sanjay made a 24-hour-trip to Andhra Pradesh, the Films Division made a full-length documentary called A Day to Remember whose commentary ran in three languages!
Which media organisation will provide such coverage to Varun Gandhi today? Of course, none. Varun was trying to imitate his father in order to create news around himself. Varun had forgotten that the days of a golden bygone era are over.
Varun Gandhi’s only claim to fame is that he belongs to the Gandhi family. He joined BJP following in his mother’s footsteps in a mad race for power. His five years in BJP has been frustrating. In 2004, he could not contest elections since he was not 25; now he is eligible. Varun wanted to make sure that his debut electoral entry was akin to big bang theory. This is precisely for this reason that he intentionally opted for a provocative poll speech. Varun wants to be like his powerful father who was the centre of attention as well as attraction for even union ministers. It is a well-known fact that Bansi Lal, the then Defence minister, took the two candidates for admiral to be questioned by Sanjay. And When Sanjay Gandhi visited Jaipur; on his way 501 arches were erected in his honour! And at Lucknow airport when Sanjay stumbled on the tarmac and lost the sleeper, it was picked up by UP chief minister. He very reverentially handed it back to Sanjay. Today, Varun is trapped in such a political quagmire that his sleeper will not handed back to him even by an airhostess of a third class airline!
Varun Gandhi’s plight and stature is exactly opposite of Sanjay Gandhi. Sanjay Gandhi wielded so much influence in Indian politics that anybody opposing his diktat was doomed. When Kishore Kumar refused to sing for programmes organised to raise money for Sanjay Gandhi’s notorious family planning, coercion and force were used by Sanjay’s men to boycott Kishore Kumar. Kishore’s songs were banned from Vividh Bharati, AIR channel that used to broadcast film music. The Film Censor Board was instructed to hold up release of movies in which Kishore acted or sang! Sanjay’s supporters also warned record companies against selling Kishore’s songs!
Sanjay Gandhi was a man of obsession: ‘The Man Who Used to Get Things Done’ by hook or by crook. Varun Gandhi is following the same path in order to carve out a niche for himself. There is a fundamental difference between the two: The father was arrogant and haughty but he had at least apologised once on the instructions of his mother, Indira Gandhi. In an interview, Sanjay had lambasted the Marxists and accused them of being corrupt. He later retracted his statement and said that leaders in Jana Sangh and Swatantra parties were even more ‘corrupt’ and that CPI must be saluted for its support to “progressive policies, especially those affecting the poor people.”
Varun’s unapologetic mood conveys that he is being backed by his mother Maneka and the BJP. Chief Election Commission must ban him from contesting the upcoming general election from Pilbhit.
In his press conference, Varun claimed to be a ‘Gandhi’ but he has forgotten the ideals of his own family, at least of his grandmother. “All my father’s works”, said Indira Gandhi in 1962, “have been written in prison. I recommend prison life not only for aspiring writers but for aspiring politicians too.”
Is there any message for Varun? Yes, prison is the only place where he can wear the mantle of political maturity.