by Bappaditya Paul
Jaswant Singh might have been expelled from the BJP only this week, but the discord between the political stalwart and the party had probably begun way back in April when the BJP nominated him for the Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling.
As per sources close to Mr Singh, the former external affairs minister was “upset” when the party “pushed” him to Darjeeling under a pact with the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha (GJMM) ~ the proponent of a separate Gorkhaland state out of West Bengal.
Mr Singh was aware of the opposition to the Gorkhaland demand in the plains of Darjeeling and hence, did not take it easily when the BJP pushed a leader of his stature to the controversial constituency. The BJP top brass did so even as the GJMM’s first choice, Mr SS Ahluwalia, had declined the offer to contest from Darjeeling.
But already in discomfort with the cash-distribution controversy at the Barmer election rally; the Rajasthani politician accepted the party’s decision without an open fuss. Yet he never expressed exhilaration at being nominated from Darjeeling.
In an interview to The Statesman (published on 19 April) prior to the Lok Sabha polls, Mr Singh was asked why he had chosen to contest from Darjeeling. The veteran’s response was: “I didn’t choose. My party said we need to send somebody senior to Darjeeling this time and you have to go. And being a loyal, obedient member of the party, I said fine and that’s why I am here.”
Mr Singh’s close associates also testify his displeasure on being sent to Darjeeling. “Mr Singh had no reason, whatsoever, to go to Darjeeling unless the party had pushed him,” said one of his close aides, unwilling to be named.
Some of his associates also viewed the BJP’s move as a ploy to alienate the veteran politician from the national arena. “Remember, he was the only leading face in the BJP who does not come from a RSS background and there was always some itching at his rise in the party,” said another aide.
But the Colonel-turned-politician returned to Delhi with a landslide victory from Darjeeling. In fact, contrary to the general expectations, by way of his individual charisma, Mr Singh got over 85,000 votes from the Siliguri plains of the constituency that is a sworn opponent of the Gorkhaland demand.
Thus, after the results showed the BJP’s near rout across India, it was Mr Singh’s turn to take on the party top brass. In TV interviews, he openly started criticising the party leadership for the poll debacle and also raised questions on the concept of “Hindutva”, thus inviting an orchestrated opposition from the RSS brigade. Finally, his book praising Jinnah facilitated an excuse to show him the door.
But by now, the 71-year old politician too is probably not averse to sacrificing his saffron-image. For, after spending four long decades in politics, Mr Jaswant Singh is now more willing to be revered as a statesman, than a face of the “conservative” BJP.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece originally appeared in The Statesman on 21 August 2009)