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Big story on Rajnath Singh

Rajnath Singh, the BJP?s new leader, is a past master of intrigue. He will need all his political skills to survive the ?crown of thorns? he has won

india Updated: Jan 08, 2006 01:39 IST
Shekhar Iyer and Sunita Aron
Shekhar Iyer and Sunita Aron

They may not like him, but the respect even his political opponents have for Rajnath Singh is clear from the nickname he goes by: Chanakya. The name of that legendary guru of Indian politics, who was Machiavellian 1,800 years before Machiavelli was born, has been earned by Singh through feats of intrigue that left his cunning opponents stunned.

1997, Lucknow. The BSP, a coalition partner in Kalyan Singh’s BJP government, had withdrawn support, throwing Uttar Pradesh politics into a tizzy. Governor Romesh Bhandari recommended dissolution of the House. The BJP’s crisis team of Rajnath Singh, Kalyan Singh, Pramod Mahajan and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat got together to prevent this. Two aircraft were commandeered and ‘Chanakya’ set to work engineering splits in the BSP and Congress. Within 48 hours, a group of BSP and Congress MLAs had been lured away by promises of ministerial berths. The lot were flown to Delhi and paraded before the President. It saved the government, and gave UP a jumbo Cabinet.

Rajnath Singh says, “My ability to take on challenges is my biggest strength”. He’s faced his share in getting to the BJP President’s job.

Long way to the top

The 54-year-old farmer’s son from Babhora village in Varanasi district, who studied in the village school, went on to do his M.Sc in Physics from Gorakhpur University. He subsequently worked as a lecturer at the KB Post-Graduate College in Mirzapur.

He has been an active RSS worker since his student days. He was organisational secretary of the ABVP’s Gorakhpur division from 1969 to 1971. He became RSS ‘karyavah’ (General Secretary) of Mirzapur in 1972. His entry into active politics was via the Jan Sangh in 1974. He soon became secretary of the Jan Sangh’s Mirzapur unit. Rajnath was drawn to Jaiprakash Narayan’s movement against the Emergency. He was arrested in July 1975.

His wife Savitri Singh recalls those days. “There was Emergency in the country. His mother was lying in a coma in Anandmai Hospital in Mirzapur. Though some of his friends had moved applications for release on parole, he refused to do any such thing.”

His mother died while he was still in jail. Rajnath remained adamant about not asking the government for anything. “It was only after Madho babu spoke to Chief Minister ND Tiwari that he was released on parole for 15 days, that too for last rites”.

Savitri says Rajnath’s action would have met with his mother’s approval. She had told him, “Kabhi sar mat jhukana, Kshatriyon ke bete ho (Never bow your head, you are the son of Kshatriyas)”.

That’s how he is known in political circles, too — as a tough man, and a Thakur leader with backing from Rajputs, including several ‘strong men’ with criminal cases against them. He’s tried to refurbish his image by removing Naresh Agarwal who had split the Congress to save Kalyan Singh’s government in 1997 and sending Amarmani Tripathi to jail.

His ascension to leadership in UP was a long time coming. Despite his skills, Rajnath managed to move into Lucknow’s 5, Kalidas Marg from 4, Kalidas Marg only in 2000. The latter has been his residence for years, while the former is the official residence of the UP Chief Minister. The two addresses are separated by a boundary wall.

But it took that much time for Rajnath because AB Vajpayee favoured Sangh septuagenarian Ram Prakash Gupta after Kalyan Singh revolted against him. A shrewd Brahmin leader, Kalraj Mishra, also stood in the way. Mishra’s elevation as state president paved the way for Singh’s appointment as the CM.

Though he always credits God for being kind to him, it is only due to his deft political skills that he was able to overtake the veterans. Kalyan Singh’s standing dwindled following his two political blunders — formation of Rashtriya Kranti Party, and political tie-up with Mulayam Singh Yadav, thereby leaving a clear way for Rajnath to move ahead.

With love from Kalyan

That there was no love lost between them could be read in Kalyan Singh’s statement as RKP President. Once introspecting over his pitfalls that broke his half-decade long association with the Sangh Parivar, Kalyan Singh had said, “He (Rajnath) proved too cunning, ambitious. I was wrong in trusting him. Others (Kalraj Misra and Lalji Tandon) were easier to handle, but not him”.

Such was the bitterness between

the two that when Rajnath Singh as UP Chief Minister wanted to call on Kalyan Singh on his birthday, the latter sent a curt message saying the doors would be shut if he dared to visit.

On January 5, 2006, however, the scene was different. Kalyan Singh not only celebrated his birthday in style but also accepted Rajnath Singh’s greetings graciously.

With Kusum Rai once again playing a constructive role of a mediator between Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh, the former is left with no option but to toe the party line. Though many may have found Kalyan Singh sulking in Lucknow, they may not find him lacking in accepting the party’s decision to head UP once again. Others like Kalraj Misra, Lalji Tandon, Om Prakash Singh and Vinay Katiyar have always been relatively minor players in state politics.

As Rajnath fully knows that his skills would be first tested in Uttar Pradesh where elections are not far off, he is already working on some solid caste combinations to suit the political landscape of the state.

No doubt he is keeping Kalraj Mishra, the Brahmin face of the party in UP with him at the national scene to downplay his Rajput looks. Vinay Katiyar, a backward leader, may also join him soon. His plans include bringing back Rajputs from the SP, checking the outflow of Brahmin support from BJP to BSP and retaining backward support. However there is a big question mark. The exit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee from active politics, forays of backward leader Uma Bharti into Uttar Pradesh and BSP’s overtures to politically-neglected Brahmins of the state are bad omens. And now that he will have many more Kalraj Mishras and Tandons to handle, concentrating on UP while building his image as a national leader will be a difficult task. After all his success also lies in his outgrowing is UP ka neta image.

First Published: Jan 08, 2006 01:39 IST