A quiet rise and rise of a leader has taken place in the most political of all capitals - New Delhi where Rajnath Singh, 69, Raksha Mantri, has deftly and in his own quiet way, added himself to the Modi and Shah hyphen.
While he has not yet reached the heady heights that Shah inhabits, Singh is now a player in the power game, which till recently was a duet between Modi and Shah. Singh has been the Modi government’s face on the Chinese face-off on the border negotiating with Russia and China and been in authoritative command in Parliament.
It helps that unlike Modi and Shah Singh treats the Opposition with respect, is a consummate player of “tehzeeb” (class) and “izzat”(respect) politics and does not believe in the street level barbs that Modi and Shah are prone to. Singh knows how to negotiate the corridors of power and Delhi - he has been an inmate for decades of Lutyens Delhi and yet commands the heft of a mass leader from North India. Amit Shah’s recent bout of ill health, which has seen him in and out of hospital for treatment of COVID-19 and its aftermath and his non-appearance in the recently concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament saw Singh holding the fort.
Singh had also gone and done traditional puja while receiving the Rafale aircraft in France turning a deaf ear to the subsequent mockery. The conspiracy theorists of the Delhi durbar whisper that Singh has been made the face of failure of the Modi government on China. Modi, in a deft manoeuvre, has decoupled himself from the ongoing China crisis and made Singh the face of it after his inexplicable comments at an all-party meeting that no intrusion had taken place. Singh has been here before when monk turned politician Yogi Adityanath was anointed as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh (80 Lok Sabha seats, India’s politically most important state) by Modi - most people inside and outside BJP thought that Singh had hit the twilight zone of his political career.
In India’s caste-ridden politics Adityanath had replaced Singh as the BJP’s most important “Thakur” leader was the conventional wisdom. After all Singh was part of the “second gen leaders” of the BJP comprising Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Pramod Mahajan, who all died young. Singh was a part of the Margdarshak Mandal (the old age home of the BJP) comprising of BJP founders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi who had been put out to pasture by Modi as he forced a generational change on the fiercely cadre-based BJP. Sure Singh had made it to the first term Modi Cabinet as the minister of home affairs but, like most members of the Modi Cabinet he was a toothless tiger, pretty much a place holder. That must have chafed for a leader with an outsize quiet political hunger and appetite. Singh has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, a member of the Vajpayee Cabinet and BJP president twice. Singh had in the teeth of Opposition from Advani and Swaraj declared Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial face on the bidding of the RSS - the mothership of the BJP.
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Singh, like all the gen next leaders of the BJP, nursed prime ministerial ambitions till Modi’s arrival on the biggest political stage of Delhi. Singh had based his political career on his role model Vajpayee, even incorporating some of his characteristic mannerisms, but unlike Vajpayee was a quiet soldier of the Sangh. Singh even contested and won from Vajpayee’s Lok Sabha seat of Lucknow. Singh sallowed his prime ministerial ambitions and quietly got with the Modi programme. From being called “mananiye” (respected) by the telephone operators at home during his tenure as BJP president to now South Block, Singh has managed a quiet rise. Foes and friends call him Ajatshatru (the one without enemies). Singh is going places.