Will he, won’t he? This is a jack in the box question that keeps popping up every now and then regarding the future political plans of parliamentarian Varun Gandhi.

When Rahul Gandhi met Varun Gandhi and his daughter by chance at the Badrinath Kedarnath shrine in Uttarakhand last Tuesday, it was once again speculated if Varun Gandhi was prepared to join the Congress?

Varun represents the Pilibhit constituency in Uttar Pradesh (UP), and he has been a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member for over two decades.

His father Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and freedom fighter and Congress leader Feroz Gandhi, was a prominent Congress leader till his death in 1980, at the age of 33 years.

Varun is the first cousin of Congress leader Rahul. However it is reported that their mothers do not get along, and therefore they do not meet often enough.

At the hilltop temple it was confirmed that the cousins had met briefly, but warmly and that Rahul Gandhi was very happy to see Varun Gandhi’s little daughter.

Split Wide Open

Varun and his mother, Maneka Gandhi are BJP leaders from UP although they belong to a Congress family. After the death of her husband, Maneka Gandhi had claimed that her mother in law had thrown her out of the house. Her husband Sanjay was the politician in the house and UP’s Amethi was his constituency. He was seen as the successor to his mother Indira.

Rahul’s father Rajiv Gandhi was a pilot, and a happy family man. However Sanjay’s untimely death in 1980 changed the politics of the day.

With Sanjay gone, and after Indira’s assassination in 1984, Rajiv was forced to step out of his life as a family man into the world of real politics.

Sanjay’s widow Maneka was 26-years-old when she wanted to contest elections from her late husband’s constituency Amethi. But Amethi was claimed by Rajiv and later passed it on to wife Sonia Gandhi. Rahul nursed Amethi but lost it in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to BJP’s Smriti Irani.

Feeling left out and perhaps to spite the Congress, Maneka contested from Pilibhit instead, and after her win served as minister in the BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Along with her son Varun, Maneka joined the BJP in 2004.

Varun has followed his mother’s politics, and campaigned for her in the 1999 elections, and later in about 40 constituencies in the 2004 elections. Varun seemed like an important BJP leader till he praised former UP Chief Minister (CM) Rajnath Singh as a suitable PM face for the BJP.

That opinion of Varun Gandhi distanced him from those in power today. It is also said that the BJP does not approve of the affectionate way Varun continues to speak of his cousins Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi.

Both Maneka and Varun have been side-lined within the BJP today, neither of them hold any important post, or responsibility. The feeling amongst many a political analyst is that he may be a member of the BJP but Varun’s soul is that of a Congressman.

He has been critical in the past of all those inciting communalism in the country and also those who undermine secularism. This attitude further fans rumours that he may soon join the Congress. Will he, is the question.

Meet UP’s Lotus Eaters

The thought of Varun Gandhi in the Congress is not a bad idea at a time when the party has been reduced to a bunch of lotus eaters especially in UP. Once a force to reckon with, there is a paralysis of thought and action within the Congress.

There is a desperate need for vote mobilisers and party managers. Although Rahul Gandhi has at last emerged as a mass leader, a second rung of several rows of leadership is needed. The need is not just to mobilise the masses but also to smoothen bumps for party workers and to take responsibility when things go wrong like a shock absorber that will make sure that the party is forever on track.

Priyanka Gandhi had tried to wake up the Congress in recent times but to no success. She has not been back in UP ever since the party’s disgraceful performance in the last Assembly elections held in early 2022.

It is three decades since the Congress has been out of power in UP. The traditional Dalit voter of the Congress was eventually wooed away by the emergence of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the rise of Mulayam Singh Yadav as a powerful leader of the backward community. The 20 percent of UP’s Muslim voters were also disappointed with the Congress and scattered away from the party.

Without the combined support of 52 percent of Dalit and backward caste voters plus 20 percent of Muslim voters, the Congress has no future in UP. Unless it restructures itself with the help of leaders acceptable to both the masses and to members of the elite in the largest populated province in the country that sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha.

A lone leader popular with the masses is not enough to win an entire general election in the whole country.

Today the question before the Congress is how will it address the concerns of the majority population of UP that is mired in poverty and illiteracy? What will the grand old party of the past do to prevent itself from behaving smug and arrogant once voters bring it back to power, is another question.

Voters are wary of the arrogance displayed by the Congress when it has been victorious. Another question is why did the Congress not address problems before the electorate when it was in power which it promises to fulfil now?

Going back in time to the decades between 1920 and 1940 when the performance of the Congress was at its best and when it had emerged as a powerful mass movement. When Mahatma Gandhi had appeared on the political horizon of the country, India’ first PM Jawaharlal Nehru had exclaimed that Gandhi came like a powerful current of fresh air which made everyone stretch out and take a deep breath.

“He sent us to the villages and to the countryside, hummed with the activity of innumerable messengers of the new gospel of action. The peasant was shaken up and he began to emerge from his quiescent shell” Nehru said.

Is the party prepared to live up to that performance of the Congress, is the most million dollar question before it today, with or without Varun.