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India's First Family Split By Rivalries

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

The family runs India's Congress Party, which heads the coalition government that is now battling to stay in power. Voting begins later this week in India's general election, so the family's campaigning throughout the country. But as NPR's Philip Reeves reports, there's a family feud.

PHILIP REEVES: Most are men, rough-hewn fishermen and farmers who've trudged in through the surrounding palm groves to see this superstar from India's first family.

MONTAGNE: And if you now believe that if this country is to move forward and if it is to progress, then we can leave nobody behind.

REEVES: As Rahul address the crowd through a translator, he seems mild-mannered and remote.

MONTAGNE: I, for my part, will do whatever I can to increase the number of youngsters who enter in politics, and to make sure that young, fresh faces come through.

REEVES: Varun's branch of the family became estranged from the dynasty shortly after Varun's father, Sanjay Gandhi, died in an air crash nearly 30 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MONTAGNE: (Unintelligible)

REEVES: Varun was widely accused of trying to stir up communal strife between Hindus and Muslims. Varun claims the video was doctored. The election officials who examined it didn't agree, and so his denials haven't done much to dampen the uproar.

MONTAGNE: It is terrible. It is dangerous. And interestingly, Varun Gandhi's speech was condemned by all sections of society. It's hardly anything to do with the Muslims. It was just a very ugly, non- secular speech, which is still not acceptable in India.

REEVES: Seema Mustafa is editor of the political magazine Covert.

MONTAGNE: I think it was a stunt. I think he wanted the headlines. And some people in politics don't care where the headline comes from. And he's suddenly been embraced by a party, and he's a taller leader than he ever was.

REEVES: That promise would certainly be welcomed by Shabir Kan(ph). He's 23. He's just graduated from med school, and he happens to be a Muslim. Like a lot of young, educated Indians, Kan's fed up with India's politicians whipping up communal tensions in the hope of securing votes.

MONTAGNE: There's a certain section, I feel, of the society in India that are still, you know, led by religion. They don't, you know, they don't believe in like, you know, all religions are equal and, you know, we should get over it. Get over the fact - don't just base everything on religion.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Cochin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.