Bharatiya Janata Party veterans not running in India polls

Indian activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans in support of PM Narendra Modi during a gathering in Kolkata, on March 29, 2019.
Indian activists of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) shout slogans in support of PM Narendra Modi during a gathering in Kolkata, on March 29, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

Many view it as a generational shift, others see it as attempt to phase out older leaders

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was built on the back of an upsurge of Hindu nationalism in India over the past four decades.

Yet some early architects of the BJP, which helped build the party into a national force in Indian politics and successfully challenged rival Indian National Congress' dominance, will not be contesting this year's elections.

Some are calling it part of a generational shift in the ruling party, while others see it as an inevitable phasing out of the veterans, many of them over 80 years old, from the party.

India is going to the polls in seven phases starting on April 11. The elections over six weeks will see a fierce battle between BJP and the Congress, apart from a clutch of regional parties.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking another term, with his party trying to recreate the landslide win that brought the BJP to power in 2014.

But over half a dozen BJP veterans will not have a place in the Lower House of Parliament.

END OF AN EPOCH

This is now a party of the next generation. Modi made the transition into BJP when Advani was the party president. This is now a new BJP which does not believe in a collegiate style of functioning. It is the end of an epoch.

MR NILANJAN MUKHOPADHYAY, an author and journalist, on the exit of BJP veterans from elections.

The most high profile of the group is party patriarch L. K. Advani, who has contested every election in the last three decades and is a six-time MP.

Mr Advani, 91, is a politically divisive figure who built up the BJP on a wave of Hindu nationalism following the demolition of the Babri Masjid or mosque in 1992.

Long accused of instigating mobs during the incident, he famously took out a chariot procession after the demolition, spreading the influence of the party which subsequently came to power in the late 1990s.

Mr Advani, who won in the constituency of Gandhinagar six times, has been replaced in the polls by 54-year-old BJP president Amit Shah, Mr Modi's closest confidante and a powerful politician.

"He is a father figure & no one can approve of such a treatment to a father figure," tweeted BJP leader Shatrughan Sinha, 72. The actor turned politician has also been denied a constituency by the BJP and is in the process of joining the Congress after quitting the BJP.

 
 
 

Similarly, 85-year-old Murli Manohar Joshi, who vacated his constituency Varanasi for Mr Modi in 2014 and won in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, has also been asked not to contest the elections this time.

Mr Joshi was former human resource development minister and played a part in building up the party in the 1980s and 1990s.

The BJP, which was previously in power in the late 1990s, won the 2014 elections by a landslide on the back of the popularity of Mr Modi who, along with Mr Shah, went on to dominate the party.

At the time, a clutch of party veterans led by Mr Advani had opposed the rise of Mr Modi, who was then Chief Minister of the state of Gujarat.

Over the last five years, these veterans and other vocal critics of Mr Modi have found themselves sidelined within the party.

Some other stalwarts of the party, however, have voluntarily opted out of the elections, like Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj , 64.

She has made her mark in the Foreign Ministry by reaching out to Indians in trouble on Twitter. Many took to Twitter to offer her a kidney when she announced last year that she would be undergoing a transplant.

Ms Swaraj has been an important face of the party over the last few decades, becoming a minister at 25.

She has decided not to contest elections due to health problems.

"Doctors have asked me to stay safe from infection and to avoid dust," she told reporters, but said she was not retiring from politics.

Many see the exit of the veterans from elections as inevitable.

 

"It was actually the troika of (former prime minister Atal Behari) Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi who built up the party in the 80s," said journalist and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

"This is now a party of the next generation. Modi made the transition into BJP when Advani was the party president. This is now a new BJP which does not believe in a collegiate style of functioning," he said, pointing to the dominance of Mr Modi and Mr Shah in the party.

"It is the end of an epoch."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 31, 2019, with the headline 'BJP veterans not running in India polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe