The Dormant Volcano

The axing of the old guard by BJP may well herald a paradigm for years to come. Would the transition be as smooth as the ouster itself?

By Anil Anand

It is a different coup of sorts happening within the BJP not clandestinely but openly and boldly. It could be attributed to the generational shift that the party saw after Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its chief Amit Shah started dominating the organisation. Ordinarily a generational change is a natural process for any political party and more so for BJP, however, if it amounts to humiliation and embarrassment to those responsible for its growth and that too if it happens in the run up to or during the Lok Sabha elections, it is bound to raise the heckles.

The manner in which the Modi-Amit Shah duo has approached the issue making selection of candidates yet another excuse to get rid of the old guard perceived deadwood forgetting that they were once their own mentor and some even from the generation next, it is indicative of a building crisis within BJP.  For once they were the prominent faces, their voice mattered both within the precincts of Parliament and outside. It seems they have been muted so far as the coming 17th Lok Sabha is concerned. In all probability they would neither be seen in the Lower House nor their voice heard. Some of them would be really lucky to get the honour of being given berths in Rajya Sabha.

Beginning with the BJP patriarch L K Advani who along with late Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajapyee has been credited with carrying the party from 2 seats in Lok Sabha to current 282, the list includes yet another veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, who has also adequately contributed in building the organisation, Shanta Kumar, Kalraj Mishra, Ramesh Bais, B C Khanduri, Rajen Gohain, Bijoya Chakraborty and continues expanding. Firebrand former Finance and External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha is already out of BJP and so is editor turned politician Arun Shourie, cine-star turned politician Shatrughan Sinha after denial of mandate has joined Congress and set to contest elections from Patna Sahab and both External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and saffron clad former Minister Uma Bharati have already opted out of the poll process. It seems that Lok Sabha speaker Sumitra Mahajan is heading towards the same fate and denial of mandate to her from Indore is likely.

As the process of candidate selection is almost over in BJP and Prime Minister Modi has already hit the campaign trail for the seven-phase elections with full might, it will be interesting to see if these veterans and not so veterans (who do not fall in the 75+ age cut off date fixed by Modi-Shah duo for denial of tickets), would wither away silently or still have the potential to make their presence felt. The two possible ways would be to revolt and contest elections either as independent candidates or on the ticket of some other political party, as done by Shatrughan Sinha, or become a rallying point within the BJP.

Would they or would not they adopt any of this course?

It is unlikely that Advani (91) who has nurtured the party and along with Vajpayee prepared the next generation of leaders including those who are currently ruling the country would take any drastic action at the twilight of his political career and life. However, the roughshod manner in which he was conveyed the party’s decision to declare his intention of not contesting elections, is the root cause of his hurt and a similar feeling has been expressed by others. An isolated Advani sitting in a meeting with his hands cringing has of late become a regular but sad sight. Since he has not missed out any of the party meetings including that of its parliamentary bodies despite this humiliation, he seems to be in no mood of undertaking any political adventurism.

But would he be able to stop others from taking drastic steps as done by Shatrughan Sinha? The answer is no. But that does not suggest that efforts were not on to persuade him into breaking his silence at least and speak on the party matter at least.

Some indication of this was available from a recent interview of Shatrughan to a TV channel, after he met Congress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi as a precursor to joining the party. He admitted that he and others such as Yashwant Sinha were in regular touch with Advani and others. “I met him few weeks back and I was due to meet him before my calling on Rahul Gandhi along with Yashwantji but it did not happen as Yashwantji had sprained his ankle. So I will be meeting him soon to seek his blessings before joining Congress,” he remarked.

More interestingly Shatrughan was forthcoming when asked if Advani, Joshi and Shanta Kumar and others should contest elections as independent candidates to protest against the highhandedness and humiliation meted out to them, “Yes I strongly feel they should do that……” and he left it at that without clarifying whether he had broached this issue with Advani or Joshi.

Besides Advani,  Shanta Kumar (85), Kalraj Mishra (77), Bhagat Singh Koshyari (77) Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri  (76) and Bijoya Chakravorty (76) will not be contesting the Lok Sabha polls. Murli Manohar Joshi, who represents Kanpur Lok Sabha constituency which he had won by over two lakh votes in 2014, has also been left out. In 2014, he was shifted to Kanpur after the party decided to field Narendra Modi in Varanasi.

After Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi were considered top leaders of the BJP. Despite that they did not find a place in BJP’s highest decision-making body, the parliamentary board when Shah took charge. Instead, a ‘Margdarshak Mandal’ was created primarily to sideline them.

It goes to the credit of Shanta Kumar that he built the party network in Himachal Pradesh, has been representing Kangra constituency in the hill state and had been a multi-time former chief minister also. He was first elected to Lok Sabha from there in 1989 and re-elected in 1998, 1999 and 2014, the last with a record margin of 1.7 lakh votes.

Mishra, the BJP’s prominent Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh, represented Deoria in the current Lok Sabha after previously being a Rajya Sabha member. He was inducted into the Modi cabinet as micro, small and medium enterprises minister and had faced some tough moments before being dropped later on age grounds.

Hukmdev Narayan Yadav, who represents Madhubani in Bihar, is the recent recipient of the Padma Bhushan, India’s third highest civilian award. Known for his fiery speeches in Parliament, he was elected to Lok Sabha first time in 1977 on Janata Party ticket and later joined BJP. He is the luckier one among the veterans as his desire to replace him by his son from the same constituency was fulfilled. So might be he is reconciled to the ground realties better than others.

In the same vein octogenarian tribal MP from Jharkhand Kariya Munda has also been sidelined despite his wish to contest the election this time also. He too first entered the Lok Sabha in 1977 from Khunti and since 1989, he has been representing the seat continuously till 2014, barring only once in 2004 when he lost to Congress’s Sushila Kerkata. He rose to become cabinet minister and later deputy Speaker of Lok Sabha has already lost the battle as his seat has been given to former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda.

The stranger story is that of Ramesh Bais who is credited with strengthening BJP in Chattisgarh. He is a seven time MP from the state’s capital Raipur and was also minister in the Vajpayee Government. Considered close to Sushma Swaraj he has been denied ticket this time despite not falling in the 75+ age bracket as he is 71 year old. He has been very vocal about omissions and commissions of the current BJP leadership and was said to have been penalised for the same reason.

Koshyari, a former chief minister of Uttarakhand and Minister in the Vajpayee government, currently represents Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar constituency. He also served as a Rajya Sabha MP. He is now out of reckoning along with another sitting MP from the state Khanduri. The latter’s son has since joined Congress and is contesting from his father’s constituency.

Bijoya Chakraborty and Rajen Gohain had been BJP’s prominent faces from Assam. Both are out the former for crossing the age limit and the latter for not being in the good books of the party leadership.

This apart, there is another category of those who have either been dropped from the list of candidates either on reasons of poor performance or being not in line with the leadership’s thinking. The party has dropped some well known names like union minister Vishnu Deo Sai, former chief minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek Singh and Lakhan Lal Sahu who defeated former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla from Bilaspur who contested on Congress ticket in 2014.

Contrary to speculations that three- time chief minister Raman Singh would be fielded from his home constituency of Ranandgaon which was represented by his son, he has been dropped as well. A new candidate Santosh Pandey has been fielded from this constituency.

The trigger currently is Shatrughan Sinha as he has been more vocal out of the disgruntled lot. Till recently Yashwant Sinha was also acting in a similar fashion but he seems to have controlled his diatribe against Modi-Shah duo after his son and Union Minister Jayant Sinha was again fielded from Hazaribagh, Jharkhand. Owing to this reason he is learnt to have dropped his plans to contest election from any other party or as an independent supported by other opposition parties as he wishes to devote more time to ensure his son’s victory. But that does not mean any reconciliation with the BJP leadership.

Ever since he fell out with the current leadership of the BJP precisely Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah, cine star turned politician Shatrughan, the original Bihari babu, has been persistent and unrelenting in venting is angst. His protestations grew louder as the cream of the almost defunct ‘Marghdarshak Mandal’ led by Modi, fell on the wayside not only because the body set up primarily to sideline and dump veteran leaders such as L K Advani, M M Joshi, Yashwant Sinha, Shanta Kumar and others could not hold even an inaugural meeting all this while but for the fact that all these veterans after continuous humiliation have been conveyed point- blank to stay away from Lok Sabha elections.

Meaning thereby end of the road for them so far as electoral politics is concerned or that the days of Advani-Joshi era are over.

The roughshod manner in which these veterans credited with the rise of BJP to the current levels, were dealt with in forcing them to announce their intent not to contest elections, has given fresh ammunition to Shatrughan to strike back at Modi-Shah. Since he has already joined Congress and all set to contest from Patna Sahib seat as the party nominee this ammunition is coming handy for him to launch a fresh broadside against BJP and its leadership.

He alongside erstwhile BJP rebel and former cricketer Kirti Azad form a formidable group in and outside Bihar as the latter has also joined Congress and contesting Lok Sabha election as the party candidate. It is already in the air that the two joined by another former BJP rebel and now minister in Punjab, Navjot Singh Sidhu would be extensively used by the Congress high command for campaigning to expose the BJP.

Will Shatrughan-led new brigade be able to garner support from large and growing disgruntled pack of BJP leaders? It will be known in the weeks to come as the election scene starts picking up steam.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya here on Tuesday said party’s former Presidents Murli Manohar Joshi and Lal Krishna Advani themselves refused contest the Lok Sabha polls this time.

“Advani Ji and Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi refused to contest the Lok Sabha polls. Similarly, I also refused to contest. If someone is unwilling (to contest) will will the party give them tickets?” Vijayvargiya said after inspecting the preparations for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public meeting at the Brigade Parade Ground here on April 3.

When asked whether the two party veterans wrote any letter to the leadership expressing their unwillingness to contest the coming elections, Vijayvargiya said the message was conveyed to their organisational minister.

The BJP leader’s remark comes amid the controversy over Joshi’s claim in an open letter that the party asked him not to contest the 2019 polls.