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'Politics must never fall to a level that you hate each other'

May 05, 2014 15:46 IST

'Sanjay Gandhi would've been pained by Varun today'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com in Sultanpur

'Why did Varun Gandhi run away from Pilibhit? He leaves the constituency which he wins by a 300,000 margin and remembers his father's constituency in the second election?'

'A person who goes by the Gandhi name would stand with the Congress. All Varun Gandhi's ancestors were with the Congress. He left the legacy a long time ago,' the Congress's Ameeta Singh, the national badminton player-turned-politician who is contesting the Sultanpur seat against Varun Gandhi, tells Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

It has now been over three weeks that Priyanka Gandhi has spent carpet-bombing Amethi with rallies, road shows and charisma, hoping that her brother Rahul Gandhi betters, if not equals his 2009 victory margin of 300,000 votes from his constituency. But Priyanka ensures her campaign trail doesn't cross over to Sultanpur, just 32 km away, where Ameeta Singh will seek to retain her husband and sitting Congress MP Dr Sanjay Singh's seat.

For in the fray here, apart from 15 other candidates including the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, is the Bharatiya Janata Party's Varun Gandhi who seeks to reclaim his late father Sanjay Gandhi's political legacy.

While the cousins have a tacit understanding that they will not campaign in each other's constituency, Rahul broke from tradition when he held a road show in Sultanpur on the way to filing his nomination papers in Amethi, on April 12.

Priyanka has kept her distance, except for holding a closed-door meeting in Sultanpur with Congress workers, where she told them to 'use their intelligence and guide cousin Varun in the right direction.'

The video was leaked and the BJP hit back, saying she should steer Rahul in the right direction, but Varun maintained a stoic silence.

People on the streets of Sultanpur say they appreciate Varun's dignity, "Bhai, behen ka jhagda ghar mein seemit rehna chahiye (a fight between siblings should not be aired outside the home)" and believe the BJP can wrest a win away from the Singhs, who they say have largely neglected their constituency.

Ameeta Singh has to walk the straight and narrow -- her husband and Sanjay Gandhi were friends and she has referred to Varun as her nephew -- in a battle she believes is only between the Congress and the BJP in Sultanpur.

"But we are opponents now. I used to be a national-level badminton player and I believe that all is fair in love and war," she says, and scores a point saying, "Varun's father would have been hurt to see him contest on a BJP ticket mouthing the words, 'Congress mukht Bharat karo (rid the country of the Congress)."

Kindly click NEXT to read Ameeta Singh's interview with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com...


Image: Varun and I are opponents now and everything is fair in love and war, says Ameeta Singh.
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com

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'People of Sultanpur have the opportunity to send two MPs to Parliament'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

How different is your candidacy from dynastic politics, bahu-beti politics?

What-do-you-mean-by-dynastic-politics? A teacher's son can become a teacher, a lawyer's son can become a lawyer, a doctor's son can become a doctor, but if a politician's son becomes a politician, it becomes dynasty.

We are in the 21st century, in an awakened India. Nobody wins because of dynasty. You win because of your contribution to your constituency. So, whether the candidate is a son, wife, daughter, husband, sister -- he has to renew his candidature every five years. A doctor's son does not.

I have much to ask the BJP. Rajnath Singhji starts from Mirzapur, moves to Barabanki, Ghaziabad, Noida and now Lucknow. Why do they change their constituency each time?

What is their loyalty to the people who are voting for them?

In five years you can't straighten out a place, a lifetime is not enough.

I appreciate people like Kamal Nath (Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh), Sharad Pawar (Baramati, Maharashtra), Jyotiraditya Scindia (Guna, Madhya Pradesh), Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli), Rahul Gandhi (Amethi), Sanjay Singh, Ameeta Singh who continue to serve the same people.

Do people think Sanjay Singh has served them?

Outstanding work! But remember that people are never happy with a sitting MP. This time their complaints are vocal, but that's only because they have somebody to hear them out, but that doesn't mean they want a BJP government.

Kindly click NEXT to read Ameeta Singh's interview with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com...


Image: Ameeta Singh with her husband Sanjay Singh in Sultanpur.
Photographs: Courtesy: Ameeta Singh's Facebook page

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'The Modi wave is nothing but a creation of the media'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

So, the Modi wave hasn't hit Sultanpur?

Go to the villages and ask people what is a Modi wave.

Go to villages where there is no TV, where people don't have access to surveys and channels -- ask them what is the Modi wave?

The wave is nothing, but the creation of the media.

We have reached every village with whether it was MNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act), Indira Awas Yojna, Food Security Act, the mid day meal scheme -- and all these programmes were given to them by the Government of India, which is the Congress. They realise that.

Moreover, this country is not ready for divisive rule. The youth are looking for opportunities to grow, for development programmes.

Development is precisely the platform on which the BJP expects to get voted into power.

They-are-trying-to. They are trying very hard for a secular image. He (Modi) brings in two, three topiwallahs (referring to Muslims wearing the skull cap) for his meetings; that's not going to change their ideology.

The Gandhi ideology and the (Nathuram) Godse ideology are disparate. What I'm trying to tell you is that they are confused because now they know they cannot divide India into two halves -- into Hindu and Musalman.

Kindly click NEXT to read Ameeta Singh's interview with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com...


Image: Narendra Modi's supporters cheer for their leader at a campaign rally in Gujarat.
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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'Does Varun not remember that his father, grandmother, his great-grandfather, were all from the Congress?

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Your father-in-law Rananjay Singh introduced Sanjay Gandhi to this constituency. Do you feel betrayed that Sanjay Gandhi's son Varun Gandhi, a BJP candidate, is contesting from Sultanpur?

I don't feel betrayed. You cannot change somebody's thinking. He ought to have realised he was leaving his own constituency, deserting people who have voted for him.

The question people want to know and which remain unanswered is why has he run away from Pilibhit?

He leaves the constituency when he wins by a 3 lakh (300,000) margin and remembers his father's constituency in the second election.

And if he talks about remembering his father's constituency, well, then, why on a BJP ticket?

Does he not remember that his father, grandmother, his great-grandfather, great, great grandfather, were all from the Congress?

He still doesn't know that his father had a relationship with Amethi, not Sultanpur. And then he stands next to Modi saying, 'Congress mukht Bharat karo (free India of the Congress)'. His father would have been very pained today.

If anybody is serving the family tradition there, it is Rahul Gandhi. He is fulfilling his father as well as Varun's father's dreams.

What would you advice him to do?

I'm not going to give him any advice even in my chat with you.

What are the problems in Sultanpur?

No continuity. Every five years they changed an MP. Development is possible only if there is continuity. There is this great place called Baramati. I have been there. There is a systematic way of development there, because Sharad Pawar has won 11 times there.

Do you called it his fiefdom, do you call it dynastic politics? His daughter Supriya has entered politics. Tell me one BJP leader who can contest from the same seat? It is always easier to go with a clean slate.

Nobody can complete anything in five years, but we have built bridges, roads, we have focussed on education. My father-in-law set up the first school in 1906 here, and now we have nine institutions. But we have to create opportunities for employment by linking agriculture with industry.

How serious a threat are the BSP and SP candidates?

Let me begin by saying that I respect all the candidates. Just because I said what I did about Varun Gandhi doesn't mean I don’t respect him.

But the people of UP have realised that Mayawati and Mulayam are not going to form the government at the Centre. They have ruled out these two parties in the opening match and so don't want to waste their vote.

Kindly click NEXT to read Ameeta Singh's interview with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com...


Image: It's Rahul, and not Varun Gandhi, who is fulfilling Samjay Gandhi's dream, says Ameeta Singh.


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'If Priyanka, Rahul or Sonia had come here... it would have made a world of difference'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

So, the battle is between you and the BJP...

I'm edging towards building this election very strongly, very steadily, very constructively. I'm not here to tell you that I will win by 10 lakh (1 million) votes. I'm not interested in margins.

My victory becomes important for the people because it gives them continuity. They know I will work for them because this is where I got married, this is where I live, this is where my husband was born, and I know that our very end will also be here.

It is a battle for legacy, isn't it? Erstwhile royalty versus the Nehru name.

When they use these terms, it is out of affection. Lots of people call me by my name. Children call me Rani-ma and I believe it is each to his own. Now, that is a legacy.

But there is no other legacy here. A person who goes by the Gandhi name would stand with the Congress. All his (Varun Gandhi's) ancestors were with the Congress. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Pandit Motilal Nehru were the creators of India, so he left the legacy a long time ago. He hasn't bothered to carry a legacy.

That Priyanka Gandhi cannot campaign for you since it is also Varun's constituency affect you?

If Priyanka, Rahul or Sonia had come here... it would have made a world of difference. But I have faith in my leadership that they will do what they think best.

And when there are family issues, I would not even want to ask them.

If they could, they would. But if you asked me, would I have liked it? Oh! I would have loved it; it would have been of great help to me.

Kindly click NEXT to read Ameeta Singh's interview with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com...


Image: Priyanka Gandhi campaigns alongside Ameeta Singh in Amethi in the 2009 election.
Photographs: Rediff.com

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'My husband did not question Mrs Gandhi's decision'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Would Dr Singh have contested from this seat had he not got a Rajya Sabha ticket?

Most certainly.

It is believed he would have left the Congress joined the BJP who was considering giving him a ticket, but the Congress gave him a Rajya Sabha ticket instead.

Do you have a single example where we have spoken against the Congress or that we were inching towards the BJP? A single instance where you can make a connect? See, the whole thing is the creation of the media.

The Congress party supported FDI in retail; Dr Singh opposed it in Parliament.

You fail to understand that an MP has to bring the voice of his people to Parliament. He had not opposed the government. He was making his point of view known. The very next day the same Dr Sanjay Singh had praised the government on another issue.

The ordinary person in Sultanpur was concerned about his livelihood. He (Sanjay Singh) did not question Mrs Gandhi's decision, he simply brought about a discussion. He was not against the party.

Parliament is there for discussion and debate. If I reach Parliament, I will raise an issue 25 times, but it doesn't mean I am opposing my government.

Is your family still in touch with Varun Gandhi's family?

We had no clue Varun was coming here to contest. The last time I met him was outside Parliament. We are not in the same party, so we don't meet in a routine way.

But there is no personal enmity -- politics should never fall to a level that you start hating each other. We have never met after his candidature.

Look, I've been a sportsperson. I played for India and I believe that everything is fair in love and war. We are contesting against each other, we are on the turf now.

This is the first time that Priyanka has made personal statements against Varun Gandhi.

Do you think that it is a very nice thing what the BJP is doing? How personalised does the BJP get and to what levels do they stoop?

I think they have got very dignified leaders, an educated leadership who should not be making these statements, but there is a basic shift in the thinking of the BJP.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a very tall leader -- these kind of statements would never have been made in his time.

If they are talking about people who are not in political life (Robert Vadra), the question needs to be asked to them, not Priyanka Gandhi.

Kindly click NEXT to read Ameeta Singh's interview with Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com...


Image: Ameeta Singh campaigns with her husband Sanjay Singh in Sultanpur.
Photographs: Courtesy: Ameeta Singh's Facebook page

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'It's been a long learning curve'

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Do you feel isolated staying in Sultanpur? Do you miss the big city, bright lights?

Sultanpur has been my home since 1991. I do spend some time in Delhi because my daughter lives and works there. But I feel very happy to be with these people, they are family.

I don't like spending time in Lucknow, it's just not my environment and if I could I would drive back to Sultanpur in the night.

When I first got married and came here, my husband would tease me about my Hindi and say, 'Please, don't speak Hindi'. I'm born and brought up in Mumbai, I went to Bombay Scottish (one of Mumbai's top schools) and I was always more at ease in English.

My Hindi used to be 'tere ko, mere ko'. So I got a tutor and learnt Hindi and now, I speak it well.

When I got married, like any housewife, I would be making tea for his guests and then I realised, my god! tea is made continuously in a politician's house!

From a very private sports life to a very public political life, the transition hasn't been easy, I was apprehensive when I began my journey in politics.

But I've been an MLA, a zilla parishad chairperson... I have enjoyed every moment.

Dr Singh inspired me to join politics. I have observed and leant from him. When I was offered this seat, we discussed it, and he said go ahead.

Do you still play badminton?

Not really, but I would have loved to. I left it for a while initially for very many reasons. And then when I began playing I realised I still thoroughly enjoyed it.

But I cannot play here -- I don't have the infrastructure, besides my attire would not permit me to play here.

I don't want anything to be in confusion. This is the way I'm dressed everywhere (indicates the sari she is wearing). I do wear a salwar kameez in Delhi, but when I go out, I wear a sari like this (covering her head).

I don't think there should be a dual approach to things and, look, I've been wearing a sari for 25 years. Also, if you're a good player you can't just knock around with anyone.

Does your daughter play badminton?

No, she doesn't. She always used to say, 'I don't have to do it because you did.' Now, people ask her 'Both your parents are politicians, don't you want to be in politics?' She says 'No, I want to be a good criminal lawyer.'

So, there you go, dynasty politics ends here (smiles).


Image: Ameeta Singh, nee Ameeta Kulkarni, then a top badminton player.
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com

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