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Don't pray away the grey

Manohar Joshi is among the most intelligent leaders in the Shiv Sena. So shouldn't there be some value for age and wisdom? Loyalty should be rewarded, as the Congress does with its loyal soldiers. Sujata Anandan writes.

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2013 19:20 IST
Sujata Anandan

On his 60th birthday bash, Sharad Pawar had publicly comforted himself with the thought that he was too young to be prime minister. If PV Narsimha Rao and Atal Behari Vajpayee could both become PMs after 70, well, then, he had a long way to go towards that destination.

Since then, of course, Manmohan Singh has joined the ranks of septuagenarians who have occupied the country's top job. However, not retiring the old largely seems to be the Congress's specialty.

Of late, there have been attempts to put out LK Advani, a man who singlehandedly built the BJP, to pasture.

Now Manohar Joshi of the Shiv Sena seems to be joining the ranks of those disregarded for their age and wisdom by the saffron parties. I was very touched when in a recent interview, Joshi rued the fact that there were attempts to deny him a ticket to the next Lok Sabha elections, which he is keen on contesting, likening that to throwing a father out of the house just because he has grown old.

I do not know all the internal dynamics of the dispute but Joshi is one man who got everything from Bal Thackeray - and more. And that too, ahead of all other Sena leaders during Thackeray's lifetime.

Madhav Deshpande, an estranged Shiv Sainik, among Thackeray's earliest advisors who admitted Joshi to the party a year after its formation, told me a while ago that Joshi always successfully lobbied for what he wanted forThackeray would be afraid that he would quit if his demands were unmet.

But in an interview to me some years ago, Joshi swore he owed everything to Thackeray and would never abandon the Sena no matter what, unlike some others (read Chhagan Bhujbal and Narayan Rane) who had left after being upset over not getting their due.

That kind of loyalty should really be rewarded, as the Congress does with its loyal soldiers for no other reason than that they are, well, just loyal. However, why Joshi is now facing an uphill task is also because there is a perception among the young crop of party leaders that he may have been instrumental, advertently and inadvertently, for destroying the party as well.

Denying Bhujbal his due as leader of the opposition in 1990 and giving that job to Joshi cost the party dearly, eventually leading to its decline. After quitting the party, Bhujbal systematically demonised Thackeray and unraveled the party's inner workings. It has never been the same ever since.

Joshi was also among those leaders who conspired to deliberately drive a wedge between Uddhav and Raj Thackeray in the mid-1990s, hating the latter's arrogance and believing the former would be more pliable.

Even Thackeray could not see how he was outmanoeuvred by some leaders whom he trusted the most. Joshi is also infamous for playing both Thackeray and Pawar against each other.

While presenting the Srikrishna commission report in the assembly in 1998, Joshi suggested, on Thackeray's insistence, that Pawar had been`indicted' in the 1992-93 riots. Later, he called Pawar in Delhi to apologise for that falsehood.

Neither of the two leaders forgave Joshi for that double betrayal. It has been steadly downhill for Joshi ever since for Thackeray could never again trust him as he had done before.

Yet Joshi to this day continues to be the tallest leader in the Shiv Sena offering the party its best window to the outside world for his sophistry and networking are remarkable for a party like the Shiv Sena and I am sure he could be a valuable asset in the event of a hung Parliament in 2014.

However, of all political parties, the Shiv Sena is a party of the young and even Thackeray had not known how to handle his ageing and repackage his party accordingly.

But then Joshi is just at the right age for prime ministers in India - he is 77 and it remains without question that he continues to be among the most intelligent leaders in the Shiv Sena. So shouldn't there be some value for age and wisdom?