The resignation of Satpal Maharaj aka Satpal Singh Rawat from the Congress last month and his embracing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was not an earth-shaking political event as it was portrayed.
Former congress leader and spiritual guru Satpal Maharaj joins BJP in the presence of BJP National President, Rajnath Singh at party headquarters, in New Delhi. (Photo by Ajay Aggarwal/ Hindustan Times)
Nor was it for the first time that he had swapped his political allegiance and compromised his spirituality for transient political and earthy gains. Way back in 1995, he had also broken ranks with the Indian National Congress, joining hands with Narayan Dutt Tiwari who too had then rebelled and formed a new party christened as Congress (Tiwari).
Satpal Rawat’s first brush with politics in the 1989 parliamentary elections proved disastrous for him when as a Congress candidate he lost to Chandra Mohan Singh Negi of Janata Dal, thereby ending the hype that he had had a legion of followers. Not deterred, however, by this humiliating defeat, he tried his luck in the 1991 elections but again lost, this time to Maj Gen (Retd) BC Khanduri of BJP who was then destined to become his permanent nemesis for years to come.
However, Satpal Maharaj’s association with Tiwari (Congress) brought him some good fortune, and he was able to take revenge in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections against his old rival Khanduri. It was a lucky but brief interlude for him when Rawat was made a minister of state in railways and finance alternately at the Centre.
That was then a period of political instability in the country. In the 1998 general elections, Khanduri again turned the tables on Satpal crushing him by a huge margin. Meanwhile, a repentant Rawat rejoined the Congress when Tiwari disbanded his outfit in 1999 after Sonia Gandhi took over the reins of the Congress party.
Thereafter, Satpal’s guardian angel deserted him for the following 13 long years, denting both his spiritual aura and political credibility. He was repeatedly fielded as the Congress candidate from the Pauri parliamentary constituency in 1989, 1991, 1998, 1999 and 2008, and lost each and every time, licking his wounds.
That was something unprecedented in parliamentary annals anywhere in the world. In fact, it is a matter of surprise that the self-styled spiritual leader has not already entered the Guinness World Records for unsuccessfully seeking election to Lok Sabha on five occasions.
In retrospect, it seems strange that the Congress should have persisted with a candidate who lost election after election. Did not the party then have any other aspirant or was it simply overawed by the myth of Satpal Maharaj’s “large following”. Incidentally, in between, the Congress had in 2004 fielded Lt Gen TPS Rawat, a protégé of Satpal Maharaj, who too lost to Maj Gen Khanduri.
It was only in 2009 that Satpal Maharaj managed to retrieve a semblance of his credibility when he won the Lok Sabha elections defeating Khanduri, his arch-rival. However, that was not much of a consolation since the Congress had then won all the five Lok Sabha seats from Uttarakhand.
Making virtue of necessity
Right from 1989 when Satpal Maharaj first cut his teeth in politics, he had been a staunch opponent of “communal, divisive and sectarian” forces and instead believed in fostering a “composite culture of India”. He had a belief in “spiritualising politics” and was votary of “Nehru’s idea of secular democracy and planned development, and of Indira’s and Rajiv’s vision of technological advancement of the country”.
And now this political ‘turncoat’ has the gumption to say that neither he nor anyone else from his family would contest 2014 Lok Sabha elections. His wife, Amrita Rawat, a graduate from Guru Nanak Mahila Degree College Kanpur blows hot and cold. While making it clear that she would not quit Congress, she voiced her determination to raise issues pertaining to the aam aadmi. Pray, where was this aam aadmi all this time while the Rawat couple cozily enjoyed the privileges that came with political and official power.
No one ever heard either Satpal himself or wife Amrita speaks about common man or aam aadmi. Even their interaction with their followers and disciples reeks of patronage and condescension.
(The author is a Dehradun-based veteran journalist. Views expressed are his own)