By India Today Web Desk: Speculations about BJP MP Varun Gandhi joining the Congress were put to rest on Tuesday when Rahul Gandhi said, “My family has an ideology, Varun adopted another and I can’t accept the ideology he adopted. I cannot go to the RSS office, I’ll have to be beheaded before that.”
While being part of the Gandhi family, how did Maneka Gandhi and her son adopt drastically differing views from the Congress leaders?
To get an answer to this, we need to go back to the 1980s. The Gandhi family shared a household and lived at the prime minister’s office at Delhi’s Safdarjung. Rahul Gandhi, was born on June 19, 1970, while Varun Gandhi was born on March 13, 1980.
All seemed to be going well till Sanjay Gandhi’s death in 1980, which changed everything. His widowed wife, Maneka Gandhi, barely 25-years-old at the time, had to bear witness to Indira Gandhi passing Sanjay Gandhi’s legacy to Rahul Gandhi.
This created a fiction between Maneka and Indira. Famed author Khushwant Singh wrote in his autobiography that the rift between the two increased so much that it became difficult for both of them to live together under one roof. On March 28, 1982, in front of mediapersons and police personnel, Maneka left the Prime Minister’s residence with Varun Gandhi.
WHAT HAPPENED ON THAT FATEFUL NIGHT?
Spanish writer Javier Moro details the events of the night in his book ‘The Red Sari’. He wrote, “The note of discord was struck by Maneka, who saw with displeasure how her husband’s legacy was snatched away from her by his brother.”
The friction between Maneka and Indira reached a tipping point when the daughter-in-law attended a meeting in Lucknow with her husband’s followers and gave a “heated speech”. Indira Gandhi was in London at the time.
On the morning of March 28, 1982, Indira came home “determined to be obeyed”. Maneka’s greeting was met with a curt “We’ll talk later” from Indira.
Maneka locked herself in her room till a servant came to her bearing a tray with her food on it. Upon being asked about why he brought it to the room, the man answered, “Mrs Gandhi (Indira) asks me to tell you that she does not wish you to join the
rest of the family for lunch.”
An hour later, he came back and said the prime minister had summoned her.
“Maneka’s legs were shaking as she went down the corridor. The moment of truth had come, but there was no one in the sitting room. She had to wait a few minutes, which seemed to go on forever, and during which she started biting her nails again, like when she was a little girl. Suddenly she heard noises and Indira appeared, furious and walking barefoot, accompanied by the guru, Dhirendra Brahmachari, and secretary Dhawan, with the fancy hairstyle. She wanted them as witnesses,” wrote Javier Moro.
“Indira pointed her finger at Maneka and shouted, “Get out of this house immediately!” Moro continues, “I told you not to speak in Lucknow, but you did exactly what you wanted and you disobeyed me! There was poison in every single one of your wordsâ€¦ Do you think I can’t see that? Get out of here! Leave this house right now!” she screamed. “Go back to your mother’s house!”
As words got heated, Indira also warned Maneka against taking anything from the house apart from her clothes.
“Maneka shut herself in her room, and from there she called her sister Ambika to tell her what had happened, so that she could tell the press and get help. The writer Kushwant Singh found out what was going on from a call from Ambika asking him to go to the Prime Minister’s house.”
“About nine o’clock that night, a crowd of photographers and reporters, including a large group of international correspondents, gathered at the gate at the entrance of the house.” Police forces were also deployed heavily.
“Suddenly, while they (Maneka and her sister Amiba) were deciding how to proceed, Indira burst into the room: ‘Get out now!â€¦ I’ve told you not to take anything with you.’ Ambika intervened: ‘She won’t go! This is her home!’ ‘This is not her home,’ shouted Indira, with her eyes bulging in fury. ‘This is the home of the Prime Minister of India!”
While the sisters packed Maneka’s belongings, Secretary Dhawan and guru Dhirendra Brahmachari had to act as messengers. After a couple of hours, as Maneka’s belongings were being loaded into a vehicle, the matter of Varun Gandhi brought things to a halt. Indira was not ready to let go of her two-year-old grandson and Maneka wouldn’t leave without her son.
Moro wrote, “Indira’s fight was a desperate one. She sent for P.C. Alexander, her chief official secretary, who, on being woken in the middle of the night, thought that some international conflict had broken out.” However, her legal team told Indira Gandhi that nothing could be done to keep her grandson.
According to Moro, “It was after eleven o’clock when, carrying the confused, half-asleep Firoz Varun in her arms, Maneka finally left the house and got into a car with her sister. An explosion of flashes lit up the whole sequence of their departure. Photos that fitted the image she wanted to give, of a loyal daughter-in-law treated cruelly by her powerful and authoritarian mother-in-law. Maneka waving to the reporters from the car,’ said the caption under the photo that came out the next morning in all the newspapers in India and some abroad.”
MANEKA AND VARUN’S POLITICAL CAREERS
Soon afterwards, Menaka founded the Rashtriya Sanjay Manch along with Akbar Ahmad, but the party faced several roadblocks and did not take off. She contested the 1984 Lok Sabha elections as an Independent candidate from Amethi against Rajiv Gandhi but was defeated.
In 1988, she joined the Janata Dal. A year later, in 1989, she contested for the Pilibhit seat on a Janata Dal ticket and became a Member of Parliament. She lost the 1991 election on a Janata Dal ticket from Pilibhit.
Her journey with the BJP started in 2004 after she won the election from Pilibhit on the party’s ticket. In 2009, the saffron party fielded Varun Gandhi from Pilibhit instead of his mother. He defeated his opponents by a wide margin and became a Member of Parliament.
In 2013, Varun Gandhi became the youngest General Secretary of the BJP. In 2014, Maneka again won from Pilibhit on a BJP ticket and Varun reached the Parliament after winning from Sultanpur.
Speculations of Varun joining Congress came from him taking stands on people-centric issues through his tweets, newspaper pieces, besides public and Parliament speeches—many of them not in line with the BJP’s official position.
Varun and his mother, Maneka Gandhi, also a BJP MP from Uttar Pradesh and party veteran, don’t use the saffron party’s name in their Twitter bios. Both aren’t part of PM Modi’s council of ministers or any important BJP panel. They didn’t campaign for their party during the last assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.