Editor’s Note: Rajneeti: A Biography of Rajnath Singh written by Gautam Chintamani chronicles Singh’s fifty-year-long political journey during which he rose from a Swayamsevak in the RSS to become the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and later the home and defence minister of India.
The book delves into Singh’s various achievements as a cabinet minister in Vajpayee’s government, and as president of the BJP. Chintamani divulges how Singh, a two-term party chief, played a pivotal role in 2014 elections which brought BJP a landslide victory and depicts how as home minister, he tackled internal and external threats.
The excerpt below shows how Singh opposed to his son’s candidature in 2007 elections because he was then the party president, and did not want his son to get any special treatment.
The general perception about people in public life applies to Singh as well. People believe they know Rajnath Singh because they have seen him in person or heard him speak. Singh chooses to speak less and, as a result, even those who might have interacted with him for several years cannot help but wonder if there is indeed more than what meets the eye. Till the age of thirty, Singh often found himself too eager to set things right.
The exuberance he exuded made him a natural leader. As the years passed, there was a change in his persona. He was no longer rushed. He continued to do the right thing but his approach underwent a transformation. He became calmer. To the outside world, Singh’s calmness, at times, began to be interpreted as reticence.
While his frugality with words has not cast a shadow on his ability to connect with the masses, it has created a perception of him being an astute politician. Singh is not unaware of the image that he has come to be identified with, but does find it difficult to come to terms with the manner in which it came to be associated with him. On his own, he accepts that he did little over the years to alter such a perception. Perhaps he believed such misconceptions would get dispelled over time.
Even when it comes to his family, Singh’s mind can be misread. Never has this been more in evidence than in the case of his son Pankaj’s foray into active politics. Singh might not have wanted his children, two sons and a daughter, to follow in his footsteps but he never imposed any restrictions on them either when it came to them choosing what they wanted to do.
In 2007, Kalyan Singh proposed Pankaj Singh’s candidature from the Chiraigaon seat in Varanasi but Rajnath Singh opposed it for the simple reason that he was then the national president of the party. Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani were in-charge of the election committee and they disagreed with Rajnath Singh. In fact, Vajpayee famously told everyone present that the committee had noted the president’s dissent and proceeded with business as usual.
As the meeting wound up, Singh once again said that Pankaj’s name should be struck out as he was his son and he did not want people to question both him and his son’s intentions. But Vajpayee would have none of it and instructed senior leader Ananth Kumar to announce Pankaj as the candidate.
The news reached the Singh household and by the time Rajnath Singh returned there was celebration in the air. Pankaj touched his father’s feet and sought his blessings but all he got was a pat on the back before Singh retired to his room. A few minutes later, Savitri entered the room to chastise her husband for being so dour on such a day. Singh had relied heavily on Savitri ever since they were married to help maintain balance in his life.
When she told him to bless his son, he called for Pankaj. Seeing his father dejected, Pankaj enquired if he was unhappy with what had happened. Singh expressed his misgivings. He told Pankaj that unfair as it may seem to him, as the national president he could not give a ticket to his son. Singh asked Pankaj to go to Vajpayee’s house and apologise that he would not be able to fight the elections as his father was not happy. When Pankaj met Vajpayee to tell him precisely this, the senior leader admonished the young man’s ‘Papa’ and told him to buckle up, until Pankaj finally managed to prevail.
Later, when Nitin Gadkari was the party president and proposed Pankaj’s name as a general secretary in Uttar Pradesh, Singh once again put his foot down. Despite beginning at the grass-roots and being actively involved in the state’s politics since 2002, it was only during the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections that Pankaj Singh’s career commenced after BJP national president Amit Shah gave him the ticket from Noida.
Rajnath Singh’s acumen and clarity on issues both personal and political are well-known. His stance on matters often makes news as they are rarely half-hearted and mostly unwavering. Yet that doesn’t mean he imposes his thoughts on anyone. Even as he told Pankaj to withdraw his name even after Vajpayee insisted, Singh was clear in his mind that he could not push his son beyond a point. He insisted that it was not incorrect for any leader’s son or daughter to fight elections, but they should not shy away from working like the others for the party if that was their calling.
The following excerpt has been published with permission from Penguin Publishers, India. Rajneeti: A Biography of Rajnath Singh written by Gautam Chintamani costs Rs 599 (hardback).