Big Mouth small future

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Having honed praising rival leaders, Shatrughan Sinha has wrenched many a position. But his time seems to be up now, as Modi is no Vajpayee. That’s why he has turned a perennial dissenter

GEETA SINGH

GEETA SINGH

Geeta Singh has spent 20 years covering cinema, music and society, giving new dimensions to feature writing. She has to her credit the editorship of a film magazine. She is also engaged in exploring the socio-economic diversity of Indian politics. She is the co-founder of Parliamentarian.

Father, Actor, Politician. Current Lok Sabha MP from Patna Sahib, Bihar. Twice been Union Cabinet Minister. Lok Sabha member, Rajya Sabha member. Senior BJP leader.

This is how Shatrughan Sinha’s bio reads on his Twitter account. Isn’t it surprising that despite being a so popular, senior and experienced politician, he prefers to describe himself first as Father (of film actress Sonakshi)? And also that he has not been included in Union Cabinet? That rancours Sinha more than anyone else.

Twitter is the place where Sinha has been most active these days, mostly interacting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, giving him advice, praising him or even cracking jokes on him. Sample these…

“42 witnesses out of 59 in Sohrabuddin case have turned hostile. Hope, wish & pray that it is not under duress, money power or gun power. Had seemed to be an open & shut case… but there is certainly more than meets the eye. Speaks volumes about investigative agencies & judiciary.”

“Sir, what is all this happening? You had promised, the Govt. had promised! Chandrababu Naidu & Andhra Pradesh certainly deserve the Andhra package, the best possible package. And so does our Bihar & our friend Nitish Kumar. Bihar’s special package has been hanging fire.”

“The whole nation supports & salutes our farmers’ protest march for their democratic rights in the most disciplined manner. It’s a learning experience for many of us. Hope, wish and pray that good sense prevails upon our people & all the demands are met & settled amicably.”

“Pradhan Sevak : “Mitron! Ye jitne bhi chor desh se bhage hai, un sab ko pakad ke lana hai ki nahi???”

Bhakt : “Lana hai, Lana hai”

Pradhan Sevak : “Aapka paisa wapas milna hai ki nahi milna hai??”.

Bhakt : “Milna hai, Milna hai”

Pradhan Sevak : “To mitron...mujhe bus 5 saal aur deejiye, ye jahan kahi bhi ho, saari duniya ghoom ke, inhe lekar aavonga.”

Bhakt : “Hé Rakshak, Hé rakshak, Hé Rakshak”

But despite such biting tweets, so far Shotgun (as he is popularly called for his motor-mouthing habit) hasn’t elicited any response from the Prime Minister whose wont is well known by now that he speaks only when he wants to. He has been using any public platform to launch a vituperative attack on Modi. Often his jibes are laced with raw sarcasm.

On November 23 last year, at the launch of suspended JD(U) Rajya Sabha MP Ali Anwar Ansari’s book, Sinha used the “chaiwala” sarcasm against Modi while roping in his close aides Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Textile Minister Smriti Irani. He said, “If a lawyer can speak on financial matters, a TV actress can become the HRD minister and a “chaiwala” can achieve the greatest heights by “selling tea”, an actor like him could surely speak on demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST)”.

No Love Lost

Sinha’s bitterness towards Modi is not new. Sinha had opposed Modi’s elevation as Prime Minister candidate in September 2013 by claiming that senior party leader LK Advani was the most suitable candidate for the PM’s post. Sinha again lashed out at Modi after the latter started drawing huge crowds and topping popularity charts. If this was the criterion for selection as Prime Ministerial candidate, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan was the most suitable person, Sinha had said. He even mooted Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s name, as “PM material”.

Shatrughan spared no occasion to embarrass Modi by praising and hobnobbing with leaders of BJP’s rivals like RJD chief Lalu Prasad, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and Nitish Kumar (who was then the chief minister of Bihar as leader of the Grand Alliance comprising RJD, Congress and, of course, JDU). He even congratulated Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav after the duo formed the government defeating the BJP.

Recently, he came out in support of former Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who launched a scathing attack on Modi’s flagship economic steps demonetisation and GST.

Shatrughan not only graced the launch of a socio-political platform ‘Rashtra Manch’ comprising a lot of opposition parties, cobbled by Yashwant Sinha last month, but also asked Modi to appear before the press and answer real questions instead of just doing his ‘Mann Ki Baat’. Shatrughan also travelled with Yashwant Sinha to the hinterlands of Madhya Pradesh to participate in a farmers’ agitation. Surprising, that, because Shatrughan has not been known to leave his comforts for anything… not even ministership.

Comfort Cat

Even when he was Union Minister for Shipping in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, Sinha often used to reach office only after lunch. People knowing him closely claim that he sleeps late and that is why, is a late riser. All along his film career, he was known for arriving late for shooting, keeping co-stars and film crew waiting, sometimes for hours.

This is precisely the reason that despite having a tremendous traction among the people, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, Sinha was sparingly used by the BJP during election campaigns. Asked why Sinha was not used by the party, a senior leader had quipped, “He is very expensive. He needs a chopper or an aircraft, a luxury car to travel and nothing less than a five-star accommodation to stay and a lavish spread for his team as well. The amount needed for Shatrughan is enough to hire at least half a dozen campaigners”.

His sense of superiority, stardom, being more popular than other BJP leaders and a super-sized ego has made him unpopular in his home state. Bihar leaders spew sarcasm at him by saying, “You cannot only grudge his luck. He started as a Bollywood villain but soon was seen romancing the most beautiful women on silver screen, the likes of Rekha, Reena Roy, Hema Malini. He won from Patna Sahib as the seat had become safe for the BJP in delimitation exercise. But, he never cared for his constituency. He won again in 2014, not because of his popularity but because of the Narendra Modi wave.” But, even luck seems to be deserting him as the BJP is unlikely to field him again for Lok Sabha.

The Beginning

Sinha had joined the BJP in 1984 at the height of his film career, when the saffron party had only two MPs. He describes his joining the BJP as an indicator of his commitment to the party. But his commitment was limited only to campaigning during the elections. His active role started only after being nominated to Rajya Sabha in 1996. Two years later, when the party came to power at the Centre, he angled for a ministerial berth. Vajpayee obliged him in 2002 by handing over Health and Family Welfare Ministry, where Sinha could have really brought about a change. But due to his wayward ways, he was downsized in the next cabinet reshuffle, having been moved to the Shipping Ministry.

BJP leaders feel that this was more handsome a compensation for part-time services rendered by him to the party. Yet, Sinha always thought he was a chief ministerial material, if not the Prime Ministerial one. Many still believe that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was forced to give Sinha a ministerial berth after he begun publicly acknowledging leadership traits in Sonia Gandhi.

Having once again missed the ministerial bus in the Modi government, Sinha has never let slip an opportunity to arm-twist the Modi government in the last few months. In February 2015, just before the Delhi election results, Sinha said, “A victory or a defeat will be Modi’s. We will know who people have blessed... Modi is the captain”. He went on, speaking off the saffron script and even praising his party’s number one rival, Arvind Kejriwal, as a “good man”. Only a month before this, Modi had flown to Mumbai to attend the marriage of Sinha’s son.

The Strategy

In the Bihar elections too, Sinha once again strayed from the official line, potentially embarrassing his party. He visited Lalu Prasad on June 11 to celebrate the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief’s birthday in Patna. Next day, he said that it would be better if the BJP went to the Bihar elections with a chief ministerial candidate to take on Nitish Kumar who is named by the Secular Alliance as its nominee. The hint was clear — he wanted himself to be projected as the party’s face.

But when that did not materialise, Shatrughan returned to his old habit of bashing his own party and praising its rivals. He claimed a few days later that he had tremendous love and regards for the Bihar chief minister. He also expressed anguish at being left out of the Modi Cabinet “despite having seniority, experience and popularity”. In April that year, Sinha conspicuously skipped the public meeting of BJP president Amit Shah in Patna, claiming he had no formal invitation to it.

The strategy was again on display when a year before the 2014 Lok Sabha general elections, sensing that the party could replace him with Ravi Shankar Prasad as the Patna Sahib candidate, Sinha visited Nitish to inquire about his fractured toe. This was despite the fact that Nitish had snapped ties with the BJP over Modi being projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate and BJP having become extremely belligerent towards Nitish. But, if the visit alone was not enough, Sinha also called Nitish a “PM material”. He apparently wanted to create an impression that he could possibly switch over to JD(U) before the 2014 Lok Sabha election. The BJP soon fell in line.

Things, however, have changed since the BJP won the 2014 Lok Sabha election. Unlike the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under Vajpayee, Modi has a majority of his own. Besides, neither the BJP at the Centre or in Bihar seem inclined to submit to Sinha’s arm-twisting. The change of circumstance, however, has not stopped Shotgun from punching out his weight — much like what he did on the silver screen, years ago.

Win-Win

If Shotgun is so unhappy with Modi, why is he not leaving the party? After all, he is bound by the party’s whip till he resigns. Or why doesn’t BJP kick him out?

Apparently, it’s a win-win situation for both. Sinha does not want to lose the perks of his Lok Sabha membership. He would like to go down fighting instead of resigning, which will be seen like bowing down to Modi. According to the 10th Schedule of the Constitution, “a member of a House belonging to any political party shall be disqualified for being a member of the House (a) if he has voluntarily given up his membership of such a political party; or (b) if he votes or abstains from voting in such House contrary to any direction issued by the political party to which he belongs or by any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf, without obtaining, in either case, the prior permission of such political party, person or authority and such voting or abstention has not been condoned by such political party, person or authority within fifteen days from the date of such voting or abstention”.

Even if the BJP expels him, Sinha will remain an MP. But the BJP does not want him to become a free bird and do more harm to the party. Presently, he is speaking against the party leaders, government and its policies only outside Parliament. But once he is expelled, he will be free to be vocal inside the Lok Sabha as well. This will harm the BJP more. If Sinha defies the party whip inside Parliament, the party will get an opportunity to demand his disqualification. This cat and mouse game between Sinha and the BJP goes on inside and outside the Parliament.

With the BJP not in a mood to make him a “martyr” by expelling him yet, Sinha is likely to be more vitriolic in his attacks in the days to come.

The Climax

Now, the question if at all the BJP needs Sinha in Bihar sounds queer. Why should the BJP need Sinha? His crowd-pulling abilities have diminished; his goodwill as a politician is almost non-existent; and the less said the better about his star value. With his Bollywood career having ebbed and political career coming to standstill, Shotgun can at best, indulge in occasional social events and celebrity appearance. He has never been a grassroots leader and therefore slugging it out in heat and dust for a sustained political movement, seems difficult

for him.

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