Veterans feel the heat of new norms

Veterans feel the heat of new norms

In a political setup that introduces leaders as ''young turks'' after they cross the age of 50, the BJP under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is, for the first time, setting a retirement age of 75 in active politics.  

The old guards – led by patriarch LK Advani (86), Murli Manohar Joshi (80), Shanta Kumar(79) and P C Khanduri (79) – have not been considered by Modi for his 45-member Council of Ministers. Of the lot, Advani did not want to work under his former pupil Modi who graduated from being Gujarat chief minister to become party’s poll mascot and subsequently the PM. Advani, instead, had expressed his desire to take a constitutional position that keeps him outside the domain of government.

The former deputy PM’s name was doing the rounds for Lok Sabha Speaker’s slot which will be decided when the week-long maiden session of the 16th Lok Sabha begins June 4. However, it is still not clear whether Advani will occupy the Speaker’s chair since other names, including that of Sumitra Mahajan are in circulation for the august post.

Joshi, on the other hand, was keen to have a stint in NDA regime. In fact, after the elections, he had visited RSS’ Nagpur headquarters to ascertain the fate of the first generation leaders who were also not comfortable with Modi’s elevation as the PM candidate. BJP sources speculate that Joshi might be made deputy chairman of Planning Commission which will keep him out of the government. He will, however, have to report to Modi who also holds the post of chairman of the panel.

Over all, there are 10 BJP MPs of the age of 75 and above and NDA partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has one. Interestingly, two of the BJP leaders - Kalraj Mishra and Najma Heptullah – inducted into Team Modi will ‘superannuate’ if they continue to serve the government for a full five-year term! While Mishra is 73, Heptullah is 74.

Old guard out

Modi, BJP chief and home minister Rajnath Singh and RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat share the common view that leaders of the age of 75 years and above should give up active politics and offer their rich experience for party’s better prospects. At the same time, RSS sources said, the top brass has advised the BJP to take the old guard in the loop before taking a call on their future.

The tussle between the two generations had become so acrimonious that Congress exploited the differences to target Modi during the elections. “BJP sidelined Advani, welcomed Adani” was the common refrain of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s political attack against Modi during electioneering. The insecurity among Advani and Joshi had played out during the distribution of tickets.

Advani did not leave the opportunity to express his unhappiness for he opted out of parliamentary board meeting that was to decide the seat he would contest from. Fearing that he might not be allowed to re-contest from his pocketborough of Gandhinagar, he had let party chief Rajnath Singh know that he would be equally comfortable to fight from Madhya Pradesh as well. After a lot of humdrum, the party left him to decide his seat and he agreed to jump into the fray, perhaps, for the last time in his life from Gandhinagar itself.

Similar controversy clouded the party’s move to ask sulking Joshi to vacate the Varanasi seat for Modi and fight the political battle from Kanpur. But, the worst was in store for another Modi critic Jaswant Singh (76) who was expelled from the party after his open defiance to contest from his family seat of Barmer. Representative of BJP’s trinity, Singh, however, lost the election to BJP candidate Col Sonaram Chaudhary.

But, a patch-up between Jaswant and Modi seems quite obvious with the PM recently writing to the expelled senior leader, acknowledging his effort in nurturing the party and sought help in ‘nation-building’. Given the decisive mandate BJP got which was essentially due to the pull of Modi’s magnetic appeal, the dissent from the elders and some others, including external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha have reduced to some extent.

But, Sinha’s friend and MP from Patna Sahib Shatrughan Sinha, 67, continued to criticise Modi’s un-written rule of putting an age bar for ministerial appointment.  “Even at an age of 86, veteran BJP leader L K Advani has a sharp memory and energy like a 40-year-old man,” Sinha had said to a news agency.