Pilibhit (Uttar Pradesh): The strident communal overtones of the campaign being run by Varun Gandhi has left his own party (BJP) workers shocked.
The 29-year-old son of Maneka and late Sanjay Gandhi is contesting his maiden Lok Sabha election from Pilibhit constituency. Maneka Gandhi gave up the seat to ensure his easy entry into the Lok Sabha.
On Sunday Varun was issued a notice by the district authorities in Pilibhit. What came as a shocker is his staunchly pro-Hindu and rabid anti-Muslim vitriolic that his opponents and supporters say could trigger a communal clash.
From taking up issues like the ban on cow slaughter to asking a Sikh leader to leave a Hindu meeting, Varun has been ruffling feathers everywhere.
Though just one offensive remark captured by a TV channel drew the attention of the local authorities, the scion of the estranged Gandhi family has been busy making such statements all over Pilibhit.
While "Jai Shri Ram" is his battle-cry at all roadside meetings or assemblies, some of the other slogans being used are "Gau hatya rukwana hai, Varun Gandhi ko jitana hai" (Cow slaughter must stop, Varun Gandhi must win) and "Varun nahin yeh aandhi hai, doosra Sanjay Gandhi hai (Varun Gandhi is like a storm, he is another Sanjay Gandhi)".
Varun has already addressed three 'Hindu sammellans'. While the district administration has taken cognizance of his utterances at a meet in Barkhera on March 8, those at earlier meetings in Dalchand on March 6 and at Lalori Khera locality on February 22 have almost gone unnoticed.
On March 6, he said at the Dalchand meeting - "Agar kissi galat tatv ke aadmi ne, kisi Hindu pe haath uthaya ya hinduon ke upar yeh samajh key ki yeh kamzor hain, unke peeche koi nahi hai... hinduon ke upar haath uthaya, mein geeta ki kasam khake kehta hoon ki mein uss haath ko kaat daaloonga. (If somebody lifts a hand against Hindus, or thinks they are weak, there is nobody behind them, then I swear on the (Bhagvad) Gita that I will cut off that hand)".
It has left even leaders who are working for his victory flabbergasted.
"I am a BJP activist and a Hindu too. But I am not in favour of launching a communally charged campaign. If Varun Gandhi persists with such style of campaigning, I would be compelled to keep myself away from it," a popular BJP leader in Puranpur, Naresh Verma told IANS.
"Varun is going out of hand. If he is not restrained, this election could end in a bloody communal clash," added another BJP veteran Gurdial Singh.
The 70-year-old Sikh from Ramnagar village was even asked to leave one of the Hindu meets being addressed by Varun.
"He neither has respect for any other religion nor even for elders. In his arrogance, he has gone to the extent of forgetting that his mother was also a Sikh before her marriage," Gurudial said.
If the BJP is alarmed, other parties are determined to ensure that this stops.
"We have audio-recordings of the provocative language used by Varun Gandhi to run down Muslims," claimed a local Samajwadi Party leader, Haroon Ahmad.
"We have been restraining our people from retaliating because that will lead to a clash, but how long can we stop people from reacting?" he asked.
Varun's Congress rival VM Singh said he was "going to make a detailed complaint in this regard to the Election Commission".
"I have been gathering all the evidence against him so far but now I am going to make a written complaint," Singh added.
"The highly objectionable slang used by Varun in his reference to Muslims could just spark off a violent communal clash here."