The Modi-Shah duo is planning to roll back its diktat that people over 75 have no place in politics. The party high command wants to guard against dissidence from disgruntled seniors. Some 15 BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have crossed, or are about to reach, the 75-year cut-off. They include Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Kariya Munda. Besides, others such as L K Advani, M M Joshi and Lalji Tandon are more than a decade older. The 75-year bar was first lifted when B S Yeddyurappa was projected as the chief ministerial candidate in Karnataka. But the party’s cavalier attitude towards the elderly has taken a toll. Both Shatrughan Sinha and Yashwant Sinha have for all practical purposes left the party. If the elderly are back in the BJP, it may face a disadvantage in presenting a youthful presence. After all, while Narendra Modi is 68, on the Opposition bandwagon are Rahul Gandhi who is 47, Tejashwi Yadav, 28, Jayant Chaudhary, 39, Akhilesh Yadav, 46, K T Rama Rao (KCR’s son), 41, and Nara Lokesh (Chandrababu Naidu’s son), 35.
Back in action
Arun Jaitley continues in an isolated environment at home after his return from hospital. He has started holding meetings with his stand-in Piyush Goyal and other officials through video conferencing, but doesn’t meet anyone other than doctors and family. Railways Minister Goyal, who has been holding additional charge of Finance and Corporate Affairs in Jaitley’s absence, has gone out of his way to make clear to officials that this is a purely temporary assignment. Though Goyal’s name was put up on the website as minister when he was given the Finance portfolio, it was withdrawn in a few hours. Even when he is in North Block, Goyal makes it a point to sit on the sofa and not on the minister’s chair during meetings. Goyal prefers to handle the Finance Ministry from Rail Bhavan.
If you are alarmed by the increasing media management today, you should read veteran journalist P Raman’s soon-to-be-released book, The Post-Truth, recounting the behaviour of the Indian media over more than half a century. A cosy nexus between the media and those in power existed even in the early days of the republic. Media owners used their senior journalists as ambassadors to ensure their import licences and newsprint quotas. Accredited correspondents were allotted joint-secretary-level government bungalows in the Capital at highly subsidised rentals. The majority of the mainstream journalists blindly reported the government’s take on issues and those who tried to dig up dirt and break stories were branded tabloid journalists. Raman’s book offers interesting nuggets. He implies that in 1974, then UNI chief R Rangarajan seemed to know in advance about the Pokharan test and warned his staff to stay alert. In earlier years, news management was, he believes, more amateurish and innocent than today’s in-your-face approach. Back in the Eighties, Jayalalithaa tried to hand out Aristocrat suitcases to the Delhi media and was snubbed. L K Advani was considered a master propagandist as he went out of his way to charm the anti-Sangh media by praising their writings and to cultivate them.
With Opposition unity strengthening and NDA allies falling apart, the BJP will face a major test when Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P J Kurien retires in June. A new deputy chairperson has to be elected by the monsoon session. Technically the NDA does not have a majority in the Upper House. One idea floated to secure additional votes was to field a candidate from either the TRS or the YSR Congress. But since Rajya Sabha chairperson Venkaiah Naidu is from Andhra, it would be odd to select his deputy from the Andhra-Telangana region.
Locking stable door
Amit Shah may have a hard time mending fences with his NDA allies since his style in the past has been to cut down allies by propping up rivals. For instance, when Shah got a hint that Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan were bonding, he countered by getting the BJP’s Sanjay Paswan an MLC seat in Bihar. In Uttar Pradesh, when BJP ally and MoS in Yogi Adityanath’s Cabinet Om Prakash Rajbhar flexed his muscles, Shah accommodated the virtually unknown BJP member Sakal Deep Rajbhar in the Rajya Sabha. Another caste leader who is an ally, Upendra Kushwaha, is an MoS in the Modi Cabinet. To counter his influence, Shah has propped up Samrat Chaudhary, a BJP Kushwaha youth leader.