In his meeting with the RSSs triumvirate of Mohan Bhagwat,Madan Das Devi and Suresh Soni at his residence recently,L K Advani used an evocative phrase to describe the partys loss in the Rajasthan elections. Humne to hit wicket kiya, he said,alluding to the internecine feud in the BJP,and the state governments problems with the RSS,at another plane. The feud in the party had a lot to do with the Old Guard including Bhairon Singh Shekhawat refusing to accede to Vasundhara Raje,widely regarded as a dynamic administrator,even if she had problems in her interpersonal equations with state leaders. Party veterans,including Shekhawat and Jaswant Singh,say sources,wanted candidates owing allegiance to them to be fielded in the elections.
After biting the dust in the hustings,the central BJP learnt its lessons,and Advani said,The winnability of the candidates would henceforth be the sole criterion in candidate selections. Like the Congresss Group on Future Challenges that some months ago underlined that the quota system must be done away with in candidate selection,the BJP said,Yeh tera,aur yeh mera nahin chalega (this quota system shall not work in the ticket distribution).
It was an unambiguous message to the patriarchs of the Rajasthan BJP. The re-installation of Raje as the Legislative Party leader,much against the wishes of the Old Guard there,precipitated an unexpected assault on the central BJP Shekhawat descended on Delhi to mount a challenge to Advanis leadership.
For a thoroughbred Swayamsevak to have assumed the Constitutional office of the Vice-President,Shekhawat remains one of the stalwarts in the saffron brotherhood. Like Vajpayee,Shekhawat always took care to present himself as distinct from the Parivar,even while he continued to be part of it. While he counted on friends in other parties,as a wily politician,he also sewed up disparate coalitions when faced with minority verdicts. He had a definitive opinion on Ayodhya as the Rajasthan chief minister,he even asserted that his ministers must resign before taking part in the Ram Janmabhoomi stir.
Meanwhile,he also believed that the talk of retirement in politics is an anachronism. More than the BJP,it was Shekhawat himself,for instance,who was interested and supremely confident,of his chances in the last presidential elections. When dissuaded by a couple of leaders in the party,he said that he didnt have to learn lessons in politics from them. His well-wishers in other parties,who had led him up the garden path,however,left him in the lurch – they even refused to come on the phone in the crunch hour.
This,however,didnt affect his ties across the political divide. From Amar Singh to Sharad Pawar,from the Congress to the NCP to the Samajwadi Party,Bhairon Baba believed in nurturing all his personal relations. The famed Thakur biradari saw in him a patriarch of sorts. He also enjoyed excellent relations with the late Chandra Shekhar and it is said that Shekhawat had specially been drafted by the former prime minister to find a solution to the Ayodhya imbroglio.
After his presidential ambitions came to an abrupt halt,he was spending most of his time in Rajasthan,seeing his fief slipping into the hands of the next generation. What rankled him,however,was this leadership,including Raje,had initially been propped and groomed by him,but had now fallen out with him. Sources say about a year ago,there was also a move to field him from Lucknow,but this didnt make much headway.
One among the original triumvirate of the party,Shekhawat,may have taken swipes at Advani and his leadership,but also said that the two had a healthy respect for each other and would not ever do anything that harmed each others interests. Most of Shekhawats present problems,clearly,owe their origin to Rajasthan. From a police constable to the republics Vice-President,Shekhawats rise was nothing less than meteoric. His apparent refusal to come to terms with his present,however,also shows an age-old dilemma that the Indian politician has always grappled with.