By Sushil Kutty
There appears to be no end to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s self-doubts as far as Madhya Pradesh is concerned. It is not just anti-incumbency of over 18 years. This is more like being paranoid. First and foremost, the complete overdependence on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for taking the party to victory. Two, the conviction that the state leadership on its own cannot deliver victory. So, state leaders who had taken on central roles were recalled to take centre-stage in the state. Now we’re being told that young leadership will not do, so, therefore, septuagenarians have to be foisted to win the state.
In the first phase, the party named seven MPs, three of them Union ministers, and a party general secretary for the Madhya Pradesh polls. Meantime, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was all over the state giving stump speeches with hoardings and posters taking his hirsute mien to every nook and corner. It is a matter of wonder why the electorate isn’t afflicted with Modi-face-fatigue yet? It is not that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a profile to launch a 1000 ships.
What stood out was that the BJP would leave no stone unturned to retain power. The party knows that taking Modi out of the equation and the theorem will fall flat. The high-decibel electioneering has to go side-by-side with the Prime Minister’s face. Of course, there’s the well-oiled party machinery. Now, the party bigwigs have decided that age also matters. So, candidate selection is in favour of septuagenarians and that is a “slight departure”.
The reasoning is rather lopsided. How can the Congress party’s aggressive campaigning be countered with the experience of time—tested septuagenarians? A total of 14 over 70-plus including one who is a seasoned 80. Is the Madhya Pradesh electorate charmed by age? Maybe so. The BJP doesn’t seem to trust middle-aged leaders of the previous generation. Besides, all known faces of the BJP are on the wrong side of their 60s and 70s; and the ‘young’uns’ who have crossed 25 and are in their 30s and 40s and 50s are faceless with no name-recognition for no fault of theirs, not when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face is on every poster and hoarding.
While the BJP has fielded 14 over 70-plus candidates, the Congress has named nine septuagenarians. Some analysts believe the BJP’s ‘age bugbear’ has to do with the Karnataka assembly elections when younger candidates were picked over aging veterans and the Congress won.
The BJP is constantly reminded of the Karnataka assembly elections. The party is unable to get over the defeat. For a number of reasons. But one which stands out is that for once, the ‘Modi face’ did not make a difference. Neither did the crying hoarse ‘Jai Bajrang Bali’. And it is a toss whether age had put its mark on the outcome? Thinking about the Karnataka elections is depressing for the BJP, but it is an open and festering wound, painful to forget.
The BJP is hoping Madhya Pradesh will not turn out to be another Karnataka. Under the circumstances, the party’s childlike trust that septuagenarians will help the party attain majority is touching. Among them 80-year-old Nagendra Singh Nagod and 79-year-old Nagendra Singh, both of them sitting MLAs. The fact is, the BJP had been dismissive of the Congress for foisting elderly candidates on the electorate.
So, obviously, giving tickets to septuagenarians has surprised voters. In 2019, the party leadership had refused to give Lok Sabha tickets to those over 75. But whoever thought, on the eve of the 2024 general elections, the BJP will be wrung dry by self-doubts and looking for every available straw to avoid drowning in distress.
So, old is gold and age is just a number. To reiterate, the BJP is wracked by self-doubts. Scratch and the scars of previous setbacks in earlier elections will show. Defeats from choosing the wrong candidates. Dropping aging politicians was okay for as long as the party’s top leadership was strong and irreplaceable. Will it be the same in 2024? The answer is, isn’t Prime Minister Narendra Modi also a septuagenarian?
There are other questions. One, has the BJP’s experiment to build a young leadership in Madhya Pradesh failed? Are the young leaders being punished? Are old and time-tested veterans holding the BJP to ransom? What if veterans denied tickets contest as independents? There have been earlier instances when party stalwarts who were denied tickets rebelled and did damage to the party. The BJP can ill-afford to repeat the same mistake this time. All in all, the BJP is a victim of its own insecurities. (IPA Service)