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Hard face of softening saffron party

Delhi’s oldest candidate BJP’s B L Sharma ‘Prem’ swears by Varun Gandhi and dislikes jeans-clad youngsters. A candidate from the North-east Delhi parliamentary seat, is the odd one out in the election lineup for more reasons than one, least of all his age.

delhi Updated: Apr 02, 2009 00:17 IST

At 80 years, B L Sharma ‘Prem’, BJP candidate from the North-East Delhi parliamentary seat, is the odd one out in the election lineup for more reasons than one, least of all his age.

“Varun Gandhi has not done anything wrong,” he says, at a time when his party itself is tightlipped on the issue. “If a Hindu gets beaten up and does not fight back, he is considered secular; if he beats up someone in self defence, he is called communal. It’s unfair,” he says, quickly adding, “But that does not mean I support hatred.”

Sharma is, quite unabashedly a throwback to a bygone political era, when the saffron brigade sold dreams of a supposed “new order” to the electorate. “The Congress has just doled out the goods to a few while leaving out the majority. I hate politics of appeasement,” he says, just the way the likes of L K Advani used to say in their countrywide rath yatras some 20 years ago.

Except that this is 2009 and the likes of Advani now ask for votes through pop-up windows on computer screens, and never use words like “minority”, “appeasement” and “Hindutva” in the same sentence, if they can help it.

But Sharma is all about old school. “I was a long-time member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS. I’ll always be a VHP and RSS man.”

The BJP may be breaking all the barriers of technology to increase its presence on the Internet and be in sync with the “21st century cool”, but Sharma operates out of his Shakarpur ‘War Room’, which does not have a computer. Full of decades-old books on spirituality, stacked up old newspapers, pictures of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, the Sikh Gurus, Vivekandanda and Lord Ram sharing a wall, the office has all the emblems of electioneering of a very different time and age.

“I do not like hi-fi methods. My temperament does not match with the new politicians. But I have come back to save the party,” he says.

A two-time MP from East Delhi, between 1991 and 97, Sharma, a Brahmin by birth, sports a lustrous beard, a saffron turban and a kripan and swears by Sikhism. He resigned and retired in 1997 to travel India and made a comeback a day before the BJP declared its list this month, a good 12 years later in an East Delhi that has transformed.

Sharma says he knows the needs of the people. “Among other things, East Delhi needs an East Campus of Delhi University. Boys and girls from here do not like going to South and North camp and mingle with the jeans-clad, cigarette-smoking types,” he says.

In the ’90s, Sharma won by huge margins, even against scions like HKL Bhagat.

Will his politics work this time? He replies with a quote from Napoleon Bonaparte, “Everybody reads history, some teach history, but I will create history.”

First Published: Apr 02, 2009 00:10 IST