Baijayant Jay Panda
Manvendra Singh is a journalist and BJP politician who represented Barmer Lok Sabha constituency in Rajasthan between 2004 and 2009. He has a famous father,former finance and foreign minister Jaswant Singh,but that is almost incidental to this story. For starters,unlike many politicians with an illustrious ancestry,
Manvendra bypassed his father,
engaged the BJP leadership directly and took on a no-hoper constituency that his party had never won,which no other local of any standing wanted to contest.
Though he lost that first election in 1999,he stayed engaged with Barmer and nurtured it to an historic,unprecedented win for the BJP in 2004 with Rajasthans largest-ever margin of victory. But this book is about the 2009 election,which he lost,and therein lies a tale,a riveting one,of passion,principles,the
compromises of realpolitik and unflinching determination in the face of odds.
What changed most significantly between 2004 and 2009 was delimitation,a severe re-districting of the constituency by which large chunks of BJP-voting areas were sliced off. The political sands were shifting,too,not only in the desert state where a Congress government had replaced a BJP one,but nationally as well,with the sun setting on the Vajpayee era.
Manvendra Singh is easygoing and well-liked among peers. Yet there is a doggedness and steely determination in him that comes across from the first pages of this very engaging book. For example,There had been much discussion,in public and within the party,that I should be the candidate for either the Jodhpur or the Jalore parliamentary seat. Both favoured a Rajput candidate,but the last thing I wanted was to be typecast. So much for win-at-all-costs politicians and the compulsions of electoral arithmetic.
The candour with which this diary is written makes for absorbing glimpses into the life of a politician and,particularly,the hurly-burly of an election. Through it all,the candidate comes across as a regular guy,someone most people can relate to. Take,for instance,his passion for football,shared with his young son. All of us may not be diehard fans of Liverpool,or football,but many will empathise with looking forward to a match even in the midst of a gruelling travel schedule.
The book is also a window into the many worlds that overlap and sometimes collide in
Indian politics. Manvendra is a thoroughly modern man educated in the humanities in the UK and the US who also has a deep
respect for many traditional practices,but
he has to walk the tightrope around the remnants of certain unpalatable ones. A refrain through the book is that while the candidate is required to show up at virtually every wedding in the constituency,he and his team have to avoid those involving child marriages,a particular hazard in this part of the country.
While Manvendra Singhs likeability as a person is always obvious throughout the book how can you not like someone who has a favourite sand dune? at many junctures what comes across is a certain naivete,though it is also countered with examples of him dealing with the cut-and-thrust of politics. The instances when offers to plant paid news by unscrupulous media houses are fobbed off,as are those by rival groups to sabotage their own candidate,for a fee of course,speak of a good man wading upstream in a sewer.
There are,nevertheless,enough instances to give a flavour of realpolitik to the reader in search of tantalising tidbits: for example,the night raids by the candidates strategists to reach out to borderline supporters. Or the efforts to manage the clashing egos of various influential people,and the tactics needed to reach out to all members of an electorate that still abides by caste guidelines at social events. The author also does not shy away from saying that so many so-called respectable members of society seemed to have a past history of smuggling that I had stopped moralising over it long ago.
Even for lay readers not particularly addicted to politics,the human drama on display in the book will be fascinating. Towards the end,a series of no-shows by former supporters,and even by his own party members,leaves no doubt about which way the wind is blowing. The calls by a confidant that the satta betting is going against him,and a pollster saying it was not looking good,only confirm it.
The book is a compelling read,reminiscent of war stories where the relentless protagonist pushes on against all odds till the end of the road. Fortunately,although politics has been called war by other means,it always holds the possibility of redemption,of a second act,that portends future excitement.
The writer is the Lok Sabha MP from Kendrapara,Odisha