Varun Gandhi Out Of BJP National Executive. Why He Spoke Up on Lakhimpur Kheri
Varun Gandhi had also recently condemned the glorification of Nathuram Godse on Twitter.
The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday reportedly removed Pilibhit MP Varun Gandhi and Sultanpur MP Maneka Gandhi from its national executive body. Senior party leader Vinay Katiyar and Subramanian Swamy are also said to have been removed.
Gandhi's removal comes after his open stand demanding action against those behind the killing of farmers at Uttar Pradesh's Lakhimpur Kheri.
Interestingly, the party is yet to act against Union Minister of State Ajay Misra, whose son Ashish is alleged to have mowed down farmers at Kheri.
A majority of those killed were protesting farmers and a case has been filed against Ashish Misra in connection with the incident.
Gandhi first wrote a letter to UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, calling the Lakhimpur Kheri incident "unacceptable in any civilised society".
In his letter, Gandhi hails the deceased farmers as "martyrs" and says that the "they are our own citizens".
"If farmer brothers are upset regarding some issues and want to exercise their democratic right to protest, we must deal with them with patience and restraint".
He urges the UP CM to adopt "democratic" and "Gandhian" methods to deal with the protesters.
There are two other important aspects to Gandhi's letter.
First, he has called for a Supreme Court-monitored CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) probe into what happened at Lakhimpur Kheri.
Second, he has called for the accused to be charged under Section 302, which deals with murder.
Even after the letter, Gandhi kept calling for the guilty to be punished and shared videos which showed how farmers had been mowed down by a vehicle allegedly owned by Ajay Misra.
Interestingly, on 2 October, Varun Gandhi had also condemned a hashtag celebrating Nathuram Godse, the assassin of MK Gandhi. Varun Gandhi had to face trolling from right-wing handles due to his tweet as well as his letter on the farmers' protest.
Why Is Varun Gandhi's Letter Significant?
Gandhi is perhaps the only BJP MP who has spoken out openly in favour of the farmers' protest.
Even during the Mahapanchayat in Muzaffarnagar, Gandhi had tweeted calling the protesters as "our flesh and blood" and urged the government to "re-engage" with them.
His statements have been in sharp contrast to what many of the BJP leaders are saying. Some BJP leaders, such as Jaskaur Meena in Rajasthan and IT Cell in-charge Amit Malviya, have called the protesters Khalistanis.
The Union government in its affidavit to the Supreme Court also alleged that Khalistanis have infiltrated the protest. Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij referred to the farmers' protest as a "mutiny" and the state's CM Manohar Lal Khattar urged citizens to "arm themselves with sticks" against the protesters.
Ajay Misra, whose son is alleged to have been behind the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths, had said in a speech that he would "teach the protesters a lesson".
Gandhi's statements in support of the farmers, therefore, are a deviation from the dominant line within his own party.
The Reason Behind Varun Gandhi's Stand
One needs to separate Gandhi's position on the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths and the Muzaffarnagar Mahapanchayat from his objection to the glorification of Nathuram Godse.
There are two aspects to Gandhi's support for the farmers' protest.
The first aspect is related to his constituency Pilibhit, which is adjacent to Lakhimpur Kheri.
Pilibhit and Kheri are both part of the Terai belt that is home to a large number of Sikh farmers. The farmers of this region have been at the forefront of the farmers' protest in Uttarakhand and UP.
Gandhi's maternal family are themselves Sikh landowners from Pilibhit. Gandhi closely interacts with the Sikh farmers of his constituency and is aware of the extent of their opposition to the farm laws.
The feedback from these farmers has also shaped his position on the farm laws.
Opposition to Godse's Glorification
Gandhi's divergence from the dominant narrative within the BJP ecosystem was evident on 2 October when he spoke out against people glorifying Nathuram Godse on Twitter. He tweeted:
This was the first time Varun Gandhi has spoken out so clearly on an ideological issue. Those close to him maintain that he genuinely feels that glorifying the killer of the 'father of the nation' amounts to crossing a line for any patriotic Indian.
Gandhi's Fortunes Within BJP
Varun Gandhi had been working in Pilibhit, then represented by his mother Maneka Gandhi, since a very young age. The mother and son joined the BJP in 2004. Gandhi contested his first election in 2009. He was accused of making hate speeches during the campaign, but was later acquitted on those charges.
In 2013, he rose to become general secretary in the party under the presidentship of Rajnath Singh.
However, his fortunes declined with the rise of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. He was first dropped as general secretary and then was further sidelined after Yogi Adityanath became the CM of UP. However, he has retained some influence in the state, even outside the two seats he has represented – Pilibhit and Sultanpur.
Over the past few years, Gandhi has also deviated from the BJP's dominant culture in another respect. Under Modi and Shah, the party has rewarded rabble rousing leaders and those with hardline Hindutva credentials, Gandhi has gone in the opposite direction, keeping away from the public glare and writing articles, mostly on policy-oriented and non-contentious issues.
Those who interact with him say that the farm laws and the subsequent protests changed this status quo. Farmers' issues have been his core policy concern and his position on handling farmers has placed him on the opposite side from his party. Where this leads remains to be seen.
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