“I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend,” said Thomas Jefferson. Replace ‘friend’ with ‘family’ and Jefferson is proven wrong in the context of Indian politics.
The irony cannot be missed. While nepotism in politics in India is a given, so is family feud. Brother vs brother, sister vs brother, and even mother vs son is something that is common, as the love for power often trumps family ties.
The most recent is the brother vs brother saga in Punjab. Congress’s Rajya Sabha member Partap Bajwa is likely to take on his own brother Fateh Singh Bajwa who recently switched to the Bharatiya Janata Party and both want to contest from the same constituency of Qadian in the upcoming assembly polls.
One of the biggest film-style feuds in Indian politics was the one between former prime minister Indira Gandhi and her daughter-in-law Maneka Gandhi who was thrown out of the official residence in the dead of the night. The rest is history. Maneka and Sonia Gandhi continue to harbour animosity and, in fact, despite a close bond between Feroze Varun Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, there are moments when the bitter family dispute comes out. It is a feud that the late Pramod Mahajan capitalised on and in a scoop got Maneka and Varun Gandhi to join the BJP. To be fair, Varun has been careful with his words against his cousins, Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka.
Some of the feuds have been very bizarre, like the one between the Gamang couple. Both husband and wife belonged to the Congress and Giridhar Gamang, the man who ensured the fall of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, had an estrangement with Hema Gamang. Eventually, politics took a toll on their marital life. The two separated and Giridhar Gamang faced a heated campaign from Hema Gamang who by then had joined the Biju Janata Dal.
The Yadav feud from Uttar Pradesh is also one that has grabbed headlines and has eaten into the family’s political fortunes. So Akhilesh Yadav as chief minister had the support of one of his uncles, Ram Gopal Yadav, while there was a falling-out with his other uncle Shivpal Yadav who enjoyed the support of Akhilesh’s father Mulayam. In fact, there were talks of a dispute between the father and son as well. But when it comes to winning power, blood does become thicker than water, and as the UP elections approach, it seems all is well with Akhilesh and Shivpal patching up.
Then there are the Yadavs from Bihar: Tejashwi vs his brother Tej Pratap. Tejashwi is clearly the chosen one and heir apparent of former chief minister Lalu Prasad while Tej Pratap, battling marital issues to playing the victim card, has clearly not made the cut.
The South too has not been left untouched by family wars. With the death of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) icon M Karunanidhi, a succession war broke out between sons MK Stalin and Alagiri. While he was alive, Karunanidhi had made his preference for Stalin clear. Stepsister Kanimozhi, who nurtured political ambitions, lost out in this race and had to opt for siding with Stalin for her political future.
There is also a political rivalry between Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy and his sister YS Sharmila who has floated her own party but, for now, is concentrating on Telangana. Jagan’s supporters, however, claim that Sharmila is being secretly supported by the BJP.
The list is long. The Scindias in Madhya Pradesh, the Thackerays in Maharashtra, N Chandrababu Naidu vs his late father-in-law NT Rama Rao in Andhra Pradesh: no political family has been safe from bad blood.
It’s clear that in politics, relationships are negotiable, the yearning for power is not.