New Delhi, May 19 (IANS) They belong to India's first political family. And now four famous Gandhis, mother-son duos at that, will find themselves sitting on opposite benches in parliament for the first time.
Sisters-in-law Sonia and Maneka Gandhi have been facing each other in parliament from rival political camps since 1999 when the former debuted as an MP. But now more prominent will be the battle of the sons.
Rahul Gandhi, 39, is flying the flag of his ancestors - great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, grandmother Indira Gandhi and father Rajiv Gandhi - continuing the tradition of the century-old Congress party.
But his cousin Varun Gandhi, 29, the only child of Indira Gandhi's younger son Sanjay, has been supping with the 'enemy' - read the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - and has just debuted as a party MP in the 15th Lok Sabha elections.
Clad usually in a starched white kurta-pyjama, Rahul is seen by some Congress leaders as a prime minister-in-waiting, while the more colourfully dressed Varun, often called the 'other Gandhi', suddenly emerged from the shadows to become the 'poster boy' of the saffron brigade during campaigning.
Verdict 2009 has thrown up more differences.
After the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) revived fortunes, Rahul has been hailed as the party's man with the midas touch, while fingers are being pointed at Varun for the jolt the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has received.
Catapulted to the headlines by his alleged hate speeches, Varun is being blamed by no less than NDA convener Sharad Yadav for the drubbing the alliance received.
'The controversy over Varun Gandhi's hate speeches were a setback for the NDA,' Yadav said after the election results became known. The Congress has got 206 seats in the Lok Sabha and the BJP 116.
If Varun is receiving brickbats for reportedly trying to stir communal hatred, the dimple-cheeked Rahul is being credited with the stellar performance of the Congress across India, particularly the turnaround in Uttar Pradesh where it had been losing ground.
'The Congress' good show in the general elections is because of Rahul Gandhi's efforts,' said Sachin Pilot, the party's newly elected MP from Ajmer.
Incidentally, all the four Gandhis have won from Uttar Pradesh this time. Among them, Maneka was the first to become an MP in 1989.
Varun, a budding poet, had wanted to contest elections in 2004 but could not as he was too young then. This time he took the plunge in Pilibhit, a constituency vacated for him by his mother.
Rahul, the Amethi MP, too had made his parliamentary debut from a constituency vacated by his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in 2004. He has won again from there.
While Maneka has won from Aonla this time, Sonia has emerged victorious from Rae Bareli.
The nation will now be keenly watching the Sonia-Rahul duo sitting in the treasury benches and the Maneka-Varun duo in opposition in parliament.
Varun has so far avoided criticising his aunt Sonia, cousins Rahul and Priyanka and at one time had even attacked party colleague Narendra Modi for targeting them.
In fact, childhood photographs show how Priyanka and Rahul fussed over the young Varun, who was clearly a favourite. But times have sure changed.
The spotlight will constantly be on the cousins, who have not met or talked to each other for a very long time now, to see if their paths will cross in or outside parliament.
(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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