For Shatrughan Sinha, was it politics of ‘warmth’ or ‘threat’?

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SINHAThe BJP MP, Shatrughan Sinha’s praise for Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar, as ‘Prime Minister-material’, and the reactions it has evoked, indicates that the BJP-Janata Dal (United) break-up in Bihar, and the shake-up in the party’s power structure nationally, continues to have a deep political impact.

On Wednesday, two senior BJP leaders – C.P. Thakur and Yashwant Sinha — slammed Mr Sinha for diluting the party’s fight against the Bihar Chief Minister. Mr. Thakur also threatened disciplinary action. On Thursday, the BJP state unit reportedly accepted Mr. Sinha’s explanation that he was quoted out of context. But a mysterious, anonymous poster campaign was launched against him in his constituency declaring him an ‘absentee MP’.

Unlike other ‘stars’ fleetingly romancing with politics, Mr. Sinha has been a committed BJP politician. He was projected as the party’s counter to Lalu Prasad, is a popular campaign face, and served as a central minister.

Persistent dissent

A nod to Mr. Kumar is interpreted as a barb at BJP’s own Prime Minister aspirant Narendra Modi, given the direct face-off between the two chief ministers. On Wednesday, Ram Kishore Singh, the party’s erstwhile state spokesperson who questioned Mr. Modi’s development model and praised Chief Minister Kumar, resigned a day after BJP removed him as an office-bearer. Mr. Singh said, “My removal has made it clear that questioning Modi is not tolerable in the BJP now.”

It exposes the persistent dissent within BJP. Mr. Sinha is close to BJP senior leader L.K. Advani, who has been unhappy about the break in ties with Mr Kumar. Mr. Sinha had not attended the BJP Goa meet, where Mr. Modi was elevated as the BJP campaign committee chief. Patna’s political circles have been abuzz with speculation about whether Mr. Sinha had Mr. Advani’s sanction.

There is also a personal-political element. According to observers, Mr. Sinha is not sure of his place under a Modi dispensation, whether he will get a ticket when other prominent leaders want to fight from the same constituency, and if does get a ticket, whether he would win without the additional cushion of votes of JD (U). With his ‘posturing’, he has opened up political options.

‘Warmth’ or ‘threat’

Sources close to Mr. Sinha told The Hindu said there is no need to ‘over-interpret’ the move. “Mr Sinha has always been warm towards opponents. He was the first to call Laluji when he had an accident. Don’t expect him to turn bitter just because an alliance has broken.” The aide ruled out any chance of Mr. Sinha quitting the BJP.

But Mr. Sinha’s mixed political messages fit into a pattern. Each time he has been unhappy, he has reached out to opponents.

In 2001, when Mr. Sinha was upset for not being inducted into the Atal Bihari Vajpayee cabinet, he shared the public stage with political rival, Laloo Prasad Yadav; invited Congress president Sonia Gandhi as the chief guest at his play; spoke out against George Fernandes’ re-induction into government after the Tehelka scam; and boycotted party meetings. But he did not quit, and eventually became Health and Shipping Minister. In 2005, he once again called Sonia Gandhi a ‘lady of substance’, and hailed her ‘background’ even as his party’s key plank is opposing dynastic politics.

The party does not quite know how to deal with Mr Sinha. Turning a blind eye could be interpreted as a sign of weakness, while taking any firm action could only drag the issue further. Either way, BJP-watchers agree that this is a consequence of the drastic events of past few months which has change power-equations in the party. New Delhi, August 2

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