New Delhi, Nov. 11: They hoped to hit the pot of gold at the end of the BJP rainbow, but found that Sangh blood runs thicker than anything else.
This is the tale of most Congress heavyweights who defected at the height of the Vajpayee euphoria.
Sunil Shastri joined the BJP in 1998 when the Congress was in decline and the BJP seemed an attractive alternative. For the BJP, Shastri was a prize catch. Not because he was a Congressman but because he was the son of former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.
His pedigree was just what the BJP wanted to give it the patina of respectability to overcome being stereotyped a “halwai and tentwallah ka party” and make itself acceptable to liberal Hindus in the post-Babri phase.
Shastri’s rise was remarkable in a cadre-based party where traditionally age, experience and, most important, a person’s RSS antecedents mattered most. He became a national secretary, then a general secretary — the most coveted post after the president’s in the BJP organisation — and a spokesman. He was also made an MP for six months when a byelection to the Rajya Sabha was held. Shastri was promised an extension and possibly a ministership.
In the changed dispensation under M. Venkaiah Naidu, Shastri has lost all the posts, barring that of the spokesman’s.
Sources close to him claimed he was “determined to fight and reclaim his due”, but BJP veterans, who knew how things worked, were sceptical. “He can’t hope to rise forever using his father’s name. He can be of use if he is a grassroots politician with a strong caste base or fix things in other ways. Unfortunately, he belongs to a caste (Kayastha) whose votes are a little over 2 per cent,” they said.
Shastri was not the only one who gravitated towards the BJP, hoping to make it big and then finding themselves on a limb. Those who shared his plight were Arun Nehru, Sanjay Singh, Aslam Sher Khan, Dilip Singh Bhuria and Kamal Choudhary. They carried either a name like Nehru or politically correct moorings like Bhuria (a tribal leader from Chhattisgarh) and Khan (a Muslim) or a strong caste/regional presence like Singh in Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi.
“Kahan gaye woh log' (Where have they disappeared')” asked one from their ranks, cataloguing where each of them was. Nehru went into oblivion after Priyanka Gandhi saw to it that he lost his deposit in the last Lok Sabha elections while Singh basked in wife Ameeta Modi’s reflected glory. Ameeta, a first-time MLA, was made a minister which was not to the liking of BJP old-timers.
Khan returned to the Congress from Sharad Pawar’s party and, when last heard of, Choudhary, too, was trying to get back to his parent party.
Bhuria was given a sop as the chairman of the SC/ST Commission but was denied what he was angling for — the leadership of Chhattisgarh for which the BJP had a non-tribal, Raman Singh, in mind.
Abrar Ahmed, who was ushered in with fanfare as a “Muslim face”, left disappointed to be welcomed back by the Congress. He has since become a Rajya Sabha MP and his wife a minister in Rajasthan.
Tara Devi, who was a minister in P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Cabinet, along with her husband Siddhartha Reddy, who was one of Rajiv Gandhi’s back-room boys, were flaunted as big catches.
After helping the BJP score a brownie point over the Congress, both were discarded: Tara Devi was deliberately defeated while seeking a Rajya Sabha nomination from Karnataka and Reddy, who batted for K. Jana Krishnamurthi when he was BJP president, was sent back to the pavilion after Naidu took over.
The only Congressmen to make it to positions of relative consequence were K.C. Pant and the late P.R. Kumaramangalam. Pant was made deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, but BJP sources stressed that even with the Govind Vallabh Pant lineage he could get this far and no further.
Pant’s name cropped up for the posts of finance minister and Uttaranchal chief minister, but when push came to shove he was left out.
Kumaramangalam got the power ministry not only because of his antecedents (the scion of Mohan Kumaramangalam) and his ministerial experience but because he had ingratiated himself with the RSS. A factor that also helped another non-BJP person, Yashwant Sinha, to pip Jaswant Singh to the finance minister’s post in 1998.
“That’s the bottom line,” said a dispirited entrant from the Congress. “Sangh blood runs thicker than anything else.” He pointed out that for one J.F.R. Jacob, who was made Governor of Punjab, there were half-a-dozen pracharaks who were similarly rewarded: Sunder Singh Bhandari, Bhai Mahavir, Kedar Nath Sahni, Rama Jois, V. Rama Rao and K.R. Malkani.