India elections: One Gandhi is fighting for power – the rest are fighting each other

Cousins in the country’s political royalty slug it out as they vie for power

Delhi

It's a case of Rahul and Priyanka versus Varun and Maneka. An internal feud involving India's first family of politics and which has its roots dating back more than three decades has found its way to the forefront of the increasingly hard-fought election campaign.

In recent days, Priyanka Gandhi, the daughter of the Congress party chief Sonia, and sister of its campaign head, Rahul, has been making a series of digs at her cousin, Varun Gandhi, who is a candidate for the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On Tuesday, as Varun Gandhi, 34, filed his nomination papers in the Sultanpur constituency in the state of Uttar Pradesh, his cousin fired off the latest broadside, condemning him for standing for the BJP.

“This is not a family tea party. It is an ideological war,” she told reporters in language not heard from her before. “I would not have forgiven my child, if he did something like this.”

The comment was the latest in a number of verbal assaults. At the weekend, Mrs Gandhi, 42, who is married to a controversial businessman, Robert Vadra, told members of her own party that she hoped Varun Gandhi lost. “He is definitely from my family. But he has gone astray. When a young one in the family chooses the wrong path, then the elders show them the right path, the right way,” she said.

The feud between the different factions of the Nehru-Gandhi family dates back to the days of the late former prime minister Indira Gandhi, the grandmother of Rahul, Varun and Priyanka. Following the death of her son, Sanjay, in a plane crash in 1980, Indira had a bitter falling out with his widow, Maneka.

The dispute came as Indira Gandhi, effectively forced her other son, Rajiv, a commercial airline pilot, to enter politics, and scuppered Maneka's wish to contest the seat of her late husband. When Maneka, then aged 26, spoke at a political rally of one of her late husband's friends, Indira Gandhi apparently flew into a rage and broke with Hindu tradition to throw her daughter-in-law out of the house. Photographs from the time showed her luggage on the lawn.

“The indignities and physical and mental abuse I have suffered in the house - no and I repeat - no human being would have suffered,” Maneka subsequently wrote in a letter to Indira Gandhi, which she also leaked to the press. “As soon as Sanjay died you started literally torturing me in every conceivable way.”

There was to be no reconciliation between Maneka and Indira, who was killed by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. Instead, Maneka briefly set up her own party and then joined the BJP, serving as a minister and promoting the cause of vegetarianism and animal rights. Though the BJP has repeatedly condemned the “dynastic” nature of the Gandhi family, it also recognises its draw electorally.

Her son Varun first contested as an MP for the party in 2009, triggering controversy with a speech in which he threatened to cut off the heads of Muslims. This year he has been much more careful.

Indeed, while campaigning for his seat, located alongside the Amethi constituency being contested by Rahul, Varun Gandhi even offered some praise to his cousin, saying that Rahul had overseen important development work.

The comments were seized on by the media and condemned by his mother, Maneka, who said her son should speak with his “head and not his heart”.

“I have been to Amethi and there is no development there,” she said. Varun eventually “clarified” his comment.

The family feud has played out as Priyanka Gandhi has taken charge of the election campaigns of both Rahul and her mother. This week she denied a report in the Times of India newspaper claiming she had intended to contest the election in Varanasi, one of the seats being contested by the BJP's prime ministerial candidate and the assumed front-runner, Narendra Modi.

She said she had chosen to not yet enter politics. “This certainly is my own personal decision and I will change it only when I feel from within me that I should,” she said.

The promotion of Priyanka Gandhi appears to be have been pushed by elements of the Congress party concerned about the performance of Rahul Gandhi and desperate for something that could at this late stage change the dynamics of the race. Yet reports say some in the party feared Priyanka's entry might undermine her brother's campaign.

Satish Sharma, an old and close friend of the Gandhi-family and who was with Rahul last Saturday when he filed his own nomination papers in Amethi, said Priyanka's comments to Varun Gandhi had not been a personal slight. “She thinks Varun has got the wrong ideas,” Mr Sharma, a member of the upper house of the parliament, told The Independent. “But it's nothing personal.”

But Varun Gandhi claims he has been insulted. In a statement, he referred to a figure in Hindu mythology who drew a line around his house. He said that unlike his cousin, he had never crossed this line of “decency”.

“There has been talk of my path. I have always considered the nation's path as more important than my own,” he said. “In my lifetime, if I am able to constructively contribute towards nation-building, I would consider my life meaningful.”

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

£28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution