Not long ago, politics had taken a generational shift. It brought a new norm -- the younger, the better – for its current set of players. And this was so because Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the way to cut the age limit for public life and office. Today, as a result, even BJP’s rivals and contemporaries do not mind kicking up the younger lot to newer heights and even to top of their ranks. But the change thus triggered off primarily by the ruling party amid the heat of the 2014 general elections has now taken a rather incredible turn.
The Congress has decided to put its bet on 54-year-old Manvendra Singh to take on Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia in her Assembly constituency near Jhalawar in South Rajasthan. Singh had joined the Congress only a month ago though the leader in him was always spun and shaped under the benignant warmth of the BJP. He has firmly been tied up to the saffron party for most of his life and since his father’s time. And his father Jaswant Singh had held some of the prime ministries like Defence, External Affairs and Finance when the late Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister.
But the times changed for the former Union minister. He fell out with his party and the BJP denied him ticket for the last Lok Sabha polls. He contested as an independent only to lose the battle for Barmer seat to the official candidate of the party. His son was a BJP MLA in Rajasthan in his own right when the equations changed between the father and the party. And, thus, Manvendra Singh’s exit from the BJP was only a foregone conclusion. Yet, it took quite some time to come as Jaswant Singh slipped into age-related ailments that forced him to virtually retire from politics.
Somehow, Jaswant Singh has not been alone to fade into virtual oblivion under the new scheme of things followed by his former party and its upcoming leaders. Jaswant’s party peers like LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha too found themselves to be in the cold. It is another matter that the last of them continues to be known for what his BJP detractors call as “rants” to berate and embarrass the party and its top leaders.
Nonetheless, Sinha’s moves are seen as a response on the part of old guards of the party for being pushed to insignificance. And not only him but also others from the earlier lot of leaders are under the intense watch of the party.
This became all the more palpable when two days before Diwali, or on November 5 to be exact, Joshi invited a select gathering in New Delhi, including media persons, to mark the festival. No sooner than the scribes covering the BJP were to join Joshi at his residence they were called at the party’s Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg office for an “informal exchange” where three Central Ministers Arun Jaitley, Nirmala Sitharaman and Ravi Shankar Prasad kept them engaged for about an hour or so by talking about the achievements of the Government and a few other issues though the discussion was off the record. This left Joshi waiting for journalists and many of them could never find time to take part in Joshi’s Diwali Milan bash.
The possibility behind such a coincidence vis-à-vis the twin invitations that vied against each other to seek journalists’ attention being due to the tussle between the old and new breed of party leaders was not lost upon the attendees. Many of them pointed out to the three ministers or courtesy them Government’s apprehensions regarding a possible detrimental role that Joshi could possibly play by putting fingers upon some of the contentious issues faced by the Government. This was felt all the more since the issues related to banks NPAs, or non-performing assets, had put Joshi and some of his party colleagues at loggerheads through the deliberations of a parliamentary committee and the current row between the RBI and the Union Finance Ministry is only because of the bad state of Government-run banks.
Anyway, the point in view of the current season of state Assembly polls is that the subtle battle between the old and not-so-old hats in the BJP is apparently now shifting to another generation. Manvendra Singh’s entry into the Congress fold signifies this to be further escalating, or going into the top gear. And his selection by the Congress as a candidate against Rajasthan Chief Minister for the Assembly polls for Jhalarpattan seat is by no means an ordinary step.
This is more so since on November 6, posters hailing Yashwant Sinha as a senior BJP leader (and not a former party leader despite the fact that he left the BJP in April this year) put by a section of the Rajasthan BJP on social media platforms to mark his birthday points to cracks in the ruling party of both the state and the Centre over what is clearly the shunning of the party’s old guards.
It is amid such intriguing manoeuvres that Manvendra has decided to throw his hat in not only the December 7 battle for one of the most coveted constituencies in Rajasthan but perhaps also among all the seats being fought in five states under the current spell of the Assembly polls. The outcome of these polls will be known on December 11. And among other things the voters’ verdict this time is going to decide the new mores and etiquettes that have been brought to politics at the cost of a whole generation of leaders who have virtually been rendered idle for nearly five years now.