Lessons from Jaswant, Yashwant: Adapt to survive in the new BJP

Barely 12 hours after the BJP showed the door to its veteran leader Jaswant Singh, it went out of its way for another party senior, Yaswant Sinha at 11 Ashoka Road, the organisation’s headquarters.

If the party’s official apparatus had worked till midnight on Saturday to issue an expulsion order for Singh, it started early on Sunday to make arrangements for Sinha’s luncheon media briefing. The irony of the situation was hard to miss.

The two senior leaders had worked closely together, both in the NDA government as well as in the opposition. Both have held the finance and external affairs portfolios during the Vajpayee government.

AFP

AFP

Jaswant Singh was to be the finance minister when the Vajpayee government came to power in 1998 but due to strong reservations by the RSS, the position went to Yashwant Sinha. Jaswant Singh became External affairs minister and the two swapped ministries, in a north bloc-south bloc swap in July 2002. Both suffered ignominy during their stints in the finance and foreign ministries – Sinha in the UTI scam and Singh in the Kandhar hijacking.

Incidentally both the leaders are the same age, 76. Sinha (born on 3 January 1938) who looks fitter and younger, is in fact four months older to Singh (born on 6 September 1937).

When the BJP lost power in 2004, Jaswant Singh was made Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, but Yashwant Sinha who had lost elections was promptly given entry into the Rajya Sabha. The other leader who was given a Rajya Sabha berth after losing was Murli Manohar Joshi. The extroverted and articulate Sinha made his mark as the opposition BJP’s voice on economic and foreign policy matters against the UPA government, for the first five years in the Rajya Sabha and for the next five years in the Lok Sabha.

While Sinha has been more combative, assertive and forthcoming, Singh has been more gentlemanly, suave and nuanced. It has in fact been Sinha who has often openly rubbed the BJP leadership the wrong way, challenging it on various policies and on his own positioning.

He was known to even take on Lal Krishna Advani, considered to be his mentor in the Vajpayee government, and went on protest dharna against his own party government in Jharkhand, had differences with Rajnath Singh, and even took conflicting positions on Modi.

But despite his on and off belligerence, which mostly arose because he thought he did not get the right kind of personal profile in the party’s organisational hierarchy, he never lost the confidence of top leaders.

Sinha knew his boundaries and never crossed the Lakshman Rekha. He knew where to stop and how far to test patience of the party leadership. He not only survives, he thrives.

In contrast, Singh had been more disciplined has not generally asked for any interference in organisational matters. His clout was born out his great equation with Vajpayee and Advani and a regal touch in his mannerisms.

It is rather ironic then that Singh will perhaps have the strange distinction of having been expelled twice by the BJP – in August 2009 in the aftermath of the 15th Lok Sabha elections and in March 2014 in the run up to the 16th Lok Sabha elections, albeit for different reasons. The outcome couldn’t be more ignominious for the erstwhile Indian Army Officer turned politician who served as Finance Minister, External Affairs Minister, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Vice-Presidential nominee, that he has been expelled twice in the twilight zone of his political career.

Incidentally, both the times his expulsion was signed as sealed by party president Rajnath Singh.

In August 2009, his expulsion was provoked by a so called ideological sin, in the writing of his book Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence. The book was also banned in Gujarat for alleged adverse references to Sardar Patel.

Though the expulsion was purportedly made for ideological reasons, the truth was that it was more because of the changed power equations in the BJP post the 2009 election defeat.

Advani had been further weakened by the results, the RSS was micro managing party affairs and there was a Sangh backed yearning for a generational shift. Singh had already entered into controversy for allegedly leaking his own note to a party core group meeting in July.

In that note he had spoken about linking 'performance and reward', alleging that nothing succeeded like failure in the BJP. Though he had not actually named anyone in the note, the references to various party leaders was clear.

There was another controversy relating to his delay in vacating his post as Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha to his successor Arun Jaitley.

Though this time there are many in the party who sympathise with him, no one is willing to do a Sushma Swaraj’s and express “pain” in public.

Though Singh’s fall from grace also had to with his personal differences with Vasundhara Raje, it signals that the Vajpayee-Advani era is over, for good or bad. The new Modi led regime has taken over and if the veterans still want to be counted as relevant, they must make peace with the rising sun.

Unlike Singh, a politically astute Sinha has been able to sense the changing dynamics of power, so he chose to take one step backward, promoting his IIT Delhi and Harvard Business School educated, investment and strategy consultant, son Jayant Sinha to succeed him as BJP nominee in Hazaribagh.

A party leader said “in contrast to other seniors Yashwant Sinha has proved smarter. He let his son make way for him in Lok Sabha, who with his (Jayant) kind of CV he may possibly become part of the Modi team.

That makes him look like a votary of generational change. But by also by positioning himself on the right side of changed power equations, he has secured a bright retirement plan.


Updated Date: Mar 31, 2014 11:34 AM

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