Rajneeti: A Biography of Rajnath Singh
Penguin eBury Press
In the flurry of biographies of BJP’s top leaders, one on Rajnath Singh perhaps comes as a surprise. At a time when Singh was taken out of the crucial Home Ministry to make way for BJP president Amit Shah, this biography of Singh by Gautam Chintamani, a film historian, can be better described as hagiography — it portrays Singh’s journey as a reclusive politician who always stood for what he believed in, someone who succeeded at finding a common ground across camps and someone who, as minister, made a deep impact on the ministries he had taken charge of.
This is not exactly a biography of the BJP veteran only, it also gives glimpses of his party’s story in the Hindi heartland. What is missing, however, is deep insight into his personality. It does have some lesser known details: how his mother Gujarati Devi and wife Savitri came to the Mirzapur station to meet him while he was being transferred from Mirzapur Jail to Naini Central Jail near Allahabad — where he was put in solitary confinement during the Emergency; how voters in Mirzapur obliged his request to not vote for him — as his nomination as a Jan Sangh candidate was done before the Opposition alliance decided to field Faquir Ali Ansari, a Lok Dal leader; and how Singh insisted on his son Pankaj not being given a ticket during his presidency of the BJP. Still, a biography of Singh, one of the seniormost leaders of the BJP who certainly had a politically eventful life, could have had more anecdotes. In other words, the drama of his life is absent in the book, which also does not shed much light on Singh’s stand on the controversial agenda of the BJP.
However, for anyone who wants to glance through the history of the BJP’s emergence in Uttar Pradesh and at the centre, Chintamani chronicles the events meticulously. There are some interesting bits, too. Although there is no elaboration, he mentions how Singh was pushed as a future leader by the national leadership in the early 1990s to “keep Kalyan Singh’s popularity in check.” But the author promptly justifies the move: “Singh’s reassured demeanour and the manner in which he always found common ground across various camps and groups both within the party as well as across party lines made him a well-rounded and acceptable option to fill the leadership vacuum.”
It also mentions the “open scuffle” inside the party — including how Kalraj Mishra had threatened to undo all the good work done by the Singh-led government in Uttar Pradesh. Another interesting reference is to AB Vajpayee’s surprise announcement at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, during the BJP’s silver jubilee celebrations, that he was retiring from active politics, and declared that L K Advani and Pramod Mahajan were the “Ram” and “Lakshman” of the BJP. “What set the party aflutter was not as much as his decision to retire but his conspicuous refusal to acknowledge the man who was all set to replace Advani as the new party president.”
The book highlights Singh’s achievements in every ministry he had occupied — it credits him for the success of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-initiated Golden Quadrilateral Project (Singh was surface transport minister from 1999-2002) and how Singh ‘Set it Right’ — the title of a chapter that talks about his term as Home Minister in the Narendra Modi government, when he resolved a number of issues.
The book goes on to say that Singh, when he became the party chief, had prepared the ground for the emergence of young turks like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj and “had begun to look at Mahajan in the same light that Vajpayee had defined him”. Another interesting narrative revolves around how Singh had long batted for Modi as a popular leader, and how he “broke protocol” to speak before others — only to tell the party workers that “he did not want to come between them and the Yuva neta (young leader)” whom they had come to hear. The reference was to Narendra Modi, who was just elected as the chairman of the central campaign committee.
The book ends with the author’s take on Singh’s life. “His life is a success in many aspects but what stands out is his intent to do what he thinks is right.”