Shatrughan Sinha: why the BJP's new order should keep him around
- Shatrughan Sinha has been a BJP member since the 1980s and an MP since 1996
- He has recently praised Bihar CM Nitish Kumar, the BJP\'s sworn enemy
- He also said \'kal kisne dekha\', hinting at doubts over his future with the party
- He has played down the party\'s Legislative Council success and suggested NDA allies for CM
- Sinha is an Advani loyalist, who doesn\'t get along with the current Modi-Shah dispensation
- He has been overlooked for a ministerial berth
- Though he has sung the PM\'s praises, he has not been present at crucial rallies in Bihar
- The party needs him because he\'s a tall leader of the Kayastha community
- If Sinha leaves the party, it would mean disqualification as an MP and a slip into the shadows
Should the BJP be worried about a party MP from Bihar who comes out in praise of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on the same day that Prime Minister Narendra Modi slams him?
The answer is yes. And an even more emphatic 'yes' if the MP in question is Shatrughan Sinha.
The importance of being Shatrughan
Sinha has won the last two Lok Sabha elections from Patna Sahib with a margin bigger than any other BJP MP in the state. He got 55% of the votes in 2014 and 57% in 2009.
His constituency has six assembly segments, three of which are with the BJP.
In terms of the caste arithmetic that eventually settles all unsettled electoral matches in Bihar, Patna Sahib is a bastion of the Kayastha community, which Sinha himself hails from.
He is one of the BJP's oldest members, said to have been brought within the party's fold by the Advani-Vajpayee duo early on in the 1980s. Sinha himself is fond of recalling time-and-again that he joined the party when it had only two seats in the Lok Sabha.
Having been a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1996 and in 2002, he has served as Union Minister in the Vajpayee government, taking charge of not just the low-key shipping ministry but the health ministry as well.
With declared assets of over Rs 130 crore, Sinha is also a resource-rich MP. He was the first among many stars from the Hindi film industry who joined politics and won elections to the Parliament, and was made a Cabinet minister.
While his star power cannot be ignored, his political weight ought not to be undermined either. Yet, that is exactly what seems to be playing out.
'Who has seen tomorrow?'
Over the last fortnight, Sinha has been in the news for playing down his party's success in Bihar's Legislative Council elections.
He has also cautioned the BJP not to underestimate the JD(U)-RJD alliance, for saying that allies like Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi could be the NDA's CM candidates, for meeting Nitish Kumar and showering praises on him just after the PM's departure from the state, and for showing up at a Kayastha community function along with Lalu Yadav and senior leaders from the Congress party.
He even gave rise to speculation about his future with the party by saying at a press conference in Patna after meeting Nitish: "Kal kisne dekha hai (who has seen tomorrow)? I do not know whether tomorrow I would be thrown out of the party or embraced by it. I have not thought about it."
A fall from grace
Sinha certainly seems to have fallen from grace in the eyes of the BJP's new dispensation, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. Why else would he be missing from key back-to-back electoral events in the state?
He was not present at Modi's crucial rally in Muzaffarpur that kick-started the BJP's electoral campaign in the state. Sinha was also missing from Shah's key function in Patna in April, despite being the local MP. He had said then that he wasn't invited to the event.
Sinha has won the last two LS elections from Patna Sahib by a bigger margin than any other BJP MP in the state
He continues to be ignored for a Cabinet berth and has not even been deployed as a star campaigner in election after election, unlike in the past, when the party used to feel the need for his crowd-pulling presence across the country.
The genesis of discord
The root of this souring of the ties between him and his party can be traced to 2013. A declared supporter of the party's former patriarch LK Advani, Sinha did not agree with the party's decision to anoint Modi as the PM candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Indeed, when then BJP-chief Rajnath Singh defended the choice saying Modi was the party's most popular leader, Sinha had said if popularity was the criteria then Amitabh Bachchan should be the President of the country.
He had also skipped the party function in Goa in June 2013, along with Advani, where Modi was selected as the party's campaign-in-charge.
Much water has flown down the Yamuna, the Ganga and the Sabarmati since then. Though Sinha was forced to accept Modi's leadership, just like Advani, he has not missed any opportunity to shower bountiful praise on him in the 16 months of the NDA government.
Even in the ongoing saga aimed at embarrassing the party and forcing it to give him some recognition, he described Modi as a 'dashing, dynamic action hero'.
The new order marches on
But the new order in the party seems to have made up its mind. There have already been indications that the old order must fall. Leader after leader has either fallen prey to internal sabotage or felt the absence of solid backing from the party when hit by controversies.
In Sinha's case, howsoever unhappy he might be, he is not likely to leave the party of his own accord, since that will mean disqualification from the Lok Sabha under the anti-defection law.
Equally unlikely is the prospect of the party expelling him, since it would not want to lose a Lok Sabha seat.
What is clear is that if these wounds are allowed to fester, it will be in neither's interest. For Sinha, it might mean a further slip into the shadows, away from the limelight he is used to. For the BJP, it might mean harder groundwork in half-a-dozen key seats in the heart of the state.