Sultanpur: Minutes after the seven-seater chartered Beec-hcraft-200 took off one could see the transformation in the BJP’s young turk, Varun Gandhi. The man who was in the midst of a huge controversy some years ago over a hate speech has not just been cleared by the courts, but also appears to have become wiser and more mature.
“I will try my best to reach out to Muslims, Yadavs and Jats,” Mr Gandhi said as the plane flew to Sultanpur, from where his late father Sanjay Gandhi started his political career in the 1970s, winning his first election later from Amethi, then a part of Sultanpur district.
On Tuesday Mr Gandhi, who vacated his Pilibhit Lok Sabha seat for mother Maneka Gandhi, kicked off his campaign here. While still on board, he told this newspaper that his focus was “against identity politics based on caste and religion”. Mr Gandhi, who is also the BJP’s West Bengal in-charge, noted the party had for the first time fielded two Muslim candidates from the state.
As the plane touched down at Sultanpur’s Amhat airport and Mr Gandhi emerged, clad in a white kurta-pyjama, a motley crowd with garlands and flowers rushed to him.
There were at least 40 vehicles in Mr Gandhi’s endless cavalcade, led by a band of motorcycle riders in saffron headbands and Varun T-shirts. The convoy included a huge truck covered with huge posters of the young turk. As it raced through the narrow potholed roads throwing up a cloud of dust, lack of development and absence of infrastructure in this Lok Sabha constituency was evident. Sitting Congress MP Sanjay Singh, who had once threatened to switch sides to the BJP, finally got elected to the Rajya Sabha from Assam.
The first stop was Dhamour Bazaar, a small, crowded marketplace. The atmosphere was charged, and cheers went up as Mr Gandhi took to the mike at a makeshift stage. “I have not come as a leader, but as a brother and a son,” he spoke amid thunderous applause. He spoke for around 10 minutes, talking of the constituency’s neglect and its need for development.
While some feel his victory from the seat is a “foregone conclusion”, others believe BSP candidate Pawan Pandey could give him a tough fight. Nearly two lakh Muslim votes and an equal number of dalit votes could well go to the BSP’s kitty, making things somewhat tricky for Mr Gandhi.