New Delhi, Sept. 2: The September 13 by-elections in Uttar Pradesh will be a test case for Union home minister Rajnath Singh and his son Pankaj.
Pankaj Singh, a general secretary in the Uttar Pradesh BJP, is on a panel to oversee one of the 11 Assembly seats, Noida, with five others, including the constituency’s MP, Mahesh Sharma.
State party sources, however, said Pankaj had so far showed no sign of involving himself in the Noida bypoll.
Pankaj had sought the ticket from the seat but was denied one, the impact of the move underscored by the fact that the son of another Uttar Pradesh veteran, Lalji Tandon, was given a ticket from Lucknow (East), a seat he badly lost to the Samajwadi Party in the 2012 elections.
“So, this so-called norm Modi had supposedly laid of not promoting sons and daughters (of party leaders) did not apply in Tandon’s case. It was a calculated decision to hurt Rajnath,” a source said.
The denial last week had provoked his father to publicly allege that BJP “rumour-mongers” were out to tar his son’s “image” by spreading canards about his family members, the outburst coming amid allegations of financial misconduct against Pankaj.
Off the record, many BJP insiders said the normally cautious Rajnath had been forced to “speak out” after he sensed Pankaj was being put out to pasture in the new dispensation helmed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah.
A senior Uttar Pradesh BJP leader said he hoped Pankaj would eventually campaign in Noida as well as in the other seats. “Rejections and rewards are part of politics…. In fact, this will be a test case for Pankaj because a person’s commitment… is always tested in adversity,” the leader told The Telegraph.
Another state office-bearer, tasked to oversee Mainpuri, the sole Lok Sabha seat where polls will be held along with the Assembly constituencies, however, said: “It doesn’t matter if Pankaj works or doesn’t work. The political utility he and his father had has diminished after this episode.”
Signs of the waning clout of Rajnath and Pankaj have been evident since the “discomfiture” Rajnath allegedly subjected the BJP to last week. Shah appointed Rajnath’s old rival Kalraj Mishra overall in-charge of the bypolls with state party chief Laxmikant Vajpayee and Gorakhpur MP Yogi Adityanath.
The subtext of Adityanath’s choice was not only was he a useful sounding board on communally polarising issues, he was also a Rajput and young to boot — like Pankaj.
Rajnath has been one of the BJP’s “credible” Rajput faces for a long time although his ability to swing the community’s votes has been debated within the party.
Pankaj’s supporters had declared him Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister candidate for 2017 on the social media. Adityanath’s build-up puts paid to Rajnath’s and Pankaj’s ambitions, the sources said.
Uttar Pradesh veteran Surya Pratap Shahi, who used to head the state BJP before Rajnath packed it with his loyalists, is being rehabilitated, slowly but surely. “I have been told to work in Tandon’s constituency although nothing has been formally handed out to me,” Shahi said.
Neutral BJP insiders believe Rajnath may have “overstepped” his unstated brief when he took the “jodi myth” too seriously.
As the BJP president before Shah, Rajnath had gone out of his way to reinforce an impression that he and Modi were the BJP’s new “jodi (pair) No. 1” like L.K. Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were. “He almost made out that if there was a BJP government, he and Modi would function on a par,” an insider said.
“That was a huge error of judgement,” the insider added, recalling that on May 17, a day after the BJP’s spectacular victory, Rajnath had made it a point to place himself prominently with Modi in every frame shot from Varanasi where the Prime Minister-designate performed an “aarti”.
Shah, credited for the sweep in Uttar Pradesh, was also present but discreetly stayed away from the freeze frames.