Varun Gandhi avoids mentioning Narendra Modi in rallies

LUCKNOW (TIP): At a time when BJP candidates are busy invoking the party’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi’s name hoping to ride his popular appeal, general secretary Varun Gandhi seems the exception.

The young leader, contesting from Sultanpur, usually gives Modi a skip in his poll speeches as he seeks the support of voters in a constituency once represented by his father Sanjay Gandhi. Varun had previously courted controversy when he reportedly differed with the turnout estimates for a Modi rally in Kolkata. More recently, he had to clarify his remarks praising his estranged cousin Rahul Gandhi’s work in Amethi.

The leader has sought to pitch his election on his family connection with Sultanpur and plans for the constituency, but the bare mention of Modi caught the attention of observers due to the contrast with other BJP candidates. Varun’s comments on Rahul’s development of Amethi drew a swift response from BJP which said it held the Congress vice-president culpable, as the leadership of the government, for mistakes committed by UPA.

The unambiguous signal led to Varun clarifying he had not intended to approve Rahul’s initiatives and later his mother Maneka Gandhi also chided him and advised him to listen to his brain rather than his emotions. Maneka said, “I have gone to Amethi and there is no development there. Nobody should comment on something unless you see it with your own eyes. Some people might have told him that good work has been done. It is not right.” Interestingly, Varun has been conspicuous by his absence in all eight Modi rallies that culminated in Lucknow on March 2. Varun was absent even when a battery of leaders from the state like Murli Manohar Joshi and party chief Rajnath Singh were present.

However, Varun denies that he is giving the BJP’s PM pick a miss in his poll campaign. “The development on several fronts undertaken in Gujarat by Modiji has been exemplary. This is acknowledged by all and sundry. I have spoken about this on numerous occasions both inside my constituency and outside. Based upon his strong performance in the state, there is no doubt that Narendra Modi has captured the imagination of the country and become, for many, a symbol of hope and change,” he said.

According to a BJP leader, the last time Varun was heard talking about Modi was at the rally addressed by the Gujarat chief minister in Kolkata. After the rally, his reported comments – since denied – that the crowd was not quite as large as claimed had kicked up a controversy. Denying that Varun is ignoring Modi in his speeches, BJP workers cite names of villages where he has talked about the CM’s development agenda. Varun had praised Modi’s development agenda in villages like Bhartua and Rudauli besides others, a BJP worker from Sultanpur said.

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