'Chance meet', says Congress as Rahul-Varun Kedarnath encounter sparks off buzz in UP politics
New Delhi: Congress veterans on Wednesday described the sudden encounter between former party chief Rahul Gandhi and his cousin Varun Gandhi in Kedarnath, Uttarakhand as a “chance meeting”.
As the meeting set off speculation over big political changes in Uttar Pradesh politics, the party veterans further said that only the Gandhi family can decide on Varun’s return to the Congress fold. Varun and his mother Maneka Gandhi are both BJP Lok Sabha MPs from Pilibhit and Sultanpur constituencies respectively. Of late, Varun has been taking an anti- establishment stand on various political and policy issues setting off speculation that he might be exploring political ground other than the BJP.
While there has been speculation that Varun may move to the TMC’s UP unit, there has also been discussions in hush-tones that he may be roped in to regroup the Congress in Uttar Pradesh. The speculations around Varun got a fresh spin after the brief encounter between Rahul and Varun at Kedarnath in Uttarakhand on November 7. While Rahul had been on a three-day trip to the religious shrine, Varun visited the Lord Shiv temple along with his wife Yamini and daughter Anusuya. According to party insiders, the cousins greeted each other, exchanged pleasantries and went off their way.
“I think it was a chance meeting. Though anything is possible in politics but if the two leaders had to meet and discuss something they could have done it at a more suitable place and would not have chosen a religious place as the venue,” senior Congress leader PL Punia told ETV Bharat. “Though the meeting has set off speculation in UP as Varun has been taking an anti-government stand recently, only the Gandhi family can decide on the BJP leader’s return,” he said.
According to party insiders, though relations between former Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Maneka Gandhi have been estranged, the cousins have maintained cordiality amongst themselves. In the past, Varun had personally visited Rahul’s residence to invite the Congress MP for his marriage. However, no one from the Gandhi family attended Varun’s marriage.
The Congress has been on the margins in UP and has been trying hard to regroup in the crucial state which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha. For that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra had been looking after UP since 2019 but has not been able to achieve much success. The Congress had only 1 MP in 2019 national polls and only 2 MLAs in the 2022 polls.
Recently, the party named former minister Ajay Rai as the new state unit chief and has inducted a few former BSP and SP leaders to improve its stock. According to a section of Congress leaders, even though Varun has been taking an anti-establishment stand and may eventually leave the grand old party, his return to the grand old party was improbable as it could upset the existing power structure.
“Another Gandhi in UP could actually lead to a new power centre in the party and may create more problems,” a senior AICC functionary said. “See, if Rahul and Varun met at Kedarnath, there is nothing wrong in it. But it is for the BJP MP to speak on his future plans. Why should we speculate,” former UP MLA Akhilesh Pratap Singh told Aryan Age.