In 2009, 29-year-old Varun Gandhi was elected to parliament by the biggest margin (nearly 400,000 votes) of any other new member of his party—main opposition group the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The emphatic win quickly marked him out as one to watch on the Indian political scene.
Despite being a member of India’s foremost political family, Varun—cousin to fellow ‘new generation’ politician Rahul Gandhi and the grandson of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi—broke the mould by joining the BJP in 2004, instead of the Indian National Congress, with which his family has traditionally been aligned. He has stated that the BJP’s recent values better reflect his and the original ones held by the Congress on issues such as nationalism, for which he is a strong proponent.
Often portrayed as more direct and confrontational than his cousin Rahul, Varun Gandhi has emerged as the hero of the ‘Hindutva’ forces, or those seeking to ensure that Hindus in India get the same status as presently enjoyed by Muslims in Pakistan. The cousins may well end up competing head-on with each other at some point in the future as they try to persuade the Indian electorate to choose between their societal visions.