New Delhi: “Tu koshish toh kar/Ye bujhi kshama/Phir se jal sakti hai/Toofanon se ghiri kashti bachane ko/Kinaaron mein halchal mach sakti hai…”
(You must try/The extinguished light/Can light up again/To save a boat caught in storms/There can be stirs on shores…)
Former Union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ posted this tweet on 14 March. Such evocative lines, full of hope, appear on his Twitter timeline at 6 am everyday. They are part of the anthologies of his poems, which Pokhriyal keeps digging into to come up with messages of hope every morning.
On 16 March, for instance, he tweeted the following lines from his anthology, “Tum Bhi Saath Chalo”: “Abhi tak toh raat hai/Ab ghor tam mit jayega/Bhatka andhere mein bhatakta/Raah apni paayega…”
(It’s night so far/Now darkness will lift/Wanderer wandering in darkness/Will find his way…)
This was posted at 6 am again. Pokhriyal starts his day with a few lines from his poems, before moving on to tweet and retweet other things, especially those concerning Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Uttarakhand’s former chief minister was a CM-hopeful this time, too, but the PM chose to give another term to Pushkar Singh Dhami even though he lost his own election. It was in July 2021 when the Haridwar MP was dropped from the Union Cabinet. He hasn’t got any other assignment yet.
In the recent assembly elections in Uttarakhand, Pokhriyal was mostly confined to his Lok Sabha constituency. “He has campaigned for assembly segments under his constituency such as Ranipur and Dharampur, among others. He has also not been keeping well, so that is also one of the reasons behind not being visible too much in the election campaign,” a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
But Pokhriyal is not the only one who finds himself on the political margins after being dropped from PM Modi’s Union Cabinet.
His former colleague, Ravi Shankar Prasad, was also dropped by the PM in the last Cabinet revamp exercise in July 2021. A high-profile minister in the Modi and earlier Atal Bihari Vajpayee governments, Prasad was a prominent face of the BJP for a long time — until he was removed from the Cabinet. He hasn’t been given any assignment in the party or the government since then. He is also mostly seen on social media, mostly tweeting and retweeting things related to PM Modi. He retweeted PM Modi’s and PMO’s tweets 58 times in the past one week.
Sixty-seven ministers have left the Modi government since 2014, most of them dropped for non-performance. Some of them resigned to get bigger responsibilities — M. Venkaiah Naidu to become the vice-president of India and J.P. Nadda to become the BJP national president. At least four of them — Kalraj Mishra, Najma Heptulla, Thaawarchand Gehlot and Bandaru Dattatreya — were dropped only to be rehabilitated in Raj Bhavans.
A few of them were given organisational responsibilities — former agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh as Uttar Pradesh in-charge, and former skill development minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy and former sports and youth affairs minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore as national spokesmen.
The rest have virtually become the ‘wanderers’ of Pokhriyal’s poem, living in hope and despair and groping in the dark to find a way out. They are waiting to hear from their party leadership about their next assignment.
What the BJP says
BJP spokesperson R.P. Singh refuted the allegations that the party sidelined its former ministers.
“BJP is a big party, and we do not have a dearth of calibre in the party. What is the issue if more people get opportunities? Sometimes leaders and members are given varied responsibilities. Prakash ji and R.S. Prasad ji have also done a press conference (PC) in recent days. All these leaders talk about party-related issues constantly. Different people get different responsibilities at different times, so it is not like they have been sidelined,” he told ThePrint.
However, another BJP functionary denied that the situation is the same.
“As ministers, R.S. Prasad and Javadekar would address important press conferences of the party. If there was any controversy, Prasad would be the first one to represent the party as the spokesperson and Javadekar would also do the same. But since they have been removed as ministers, they have addressed only a handful of PCs. Their activity has reduced when it comes to articulating a particular point of view of the government. They used to be fielded to TV debates also, which has also reduced,” said the functionary who didn’t wish to be named.
“When it comes to Nishank, he has also not campaigned much during the Uttarakhand elections despite being a prominent BJP leader from the state. When he was the CM and minister, he used to frequently address rallies in the state during elections,” the party functionary added.
The following are some of the G-39 members who were once prominent faces of the Modi government and the party but find themselves on the sidelines today.
Uma Bharti: She held many portfolios in the Modi 1.0 government from 2014 to 2019 — water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, and drinking water and sanitation. She didn’t contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election nor did she find a place in BJP president J.P. Nadda’s team. Into political hibernation for a couple of years, she has now declared that she would contest the next Lok Sabha election. She created a stir a fortnight back, throwing a brick at bottles in a liquor shop in Bhopal. Her party colleagues see it as an attempt to regain relevance in state politics.
Maneka Gandhi: Women and child development minister in Modi 1.0 Cabinet, Maneka Gandhi was left out of the government after PM Modi got a renewed mandate. She was later dropped from the BJP’s national executive, too, last year.
Harsh Vardhan: Since being dropped as Union health minister last July, Harsh Vardhan hasn’t been very active but largely he is active in his constituency Chandni Chowk. On ‘Shaheedi Diwas’, he participated in Prabhat Pheri of children, among other programmes. Like other former ministers, he is active on Twitter, often tweeting and retweeting things in PM Modi’s praise.
Prakash Javadekar: He was a very prominent face in the Modi government, holding important portfolios such as human resource development in PM Modi’s first term in office, and environment, forest and climate change and information & broadcasting in the second. He was also dropped last year. His political activities now are largely limited to tweets and occasional programmes. For example, he was in Pune a few days ago where he met the civil aviation minister and defence ministers with a delegation for expediting of International Airport at Purandar. He also participated in a Lok Sabha TV programme on sparrow day this month.
Anantkumar Hegde: The Uttara Kannada MP was minister of state for skill development and entrepreneurship from 2017 to 2019. He was left out in the Modi 2.0 government. Hegde has been missing from party events and social media as well. His last tweet from the official account was in April 2020.
Suresh Prabhu: He led the railway ministry for three years and the commerce ministry for two years till 2019, after which he also became the civil aviation minister, but could not make the cut as a minister in the Modi 2.0. He was also appointed as PM Modi’s Sherpas for the G20 summit in 2021, later replaced by Piyush Goyal. Prabhu’s Rajya Sabha tenure will end this year in 2022, but, like other former ministers, he has also been missing from important party activities and campaigning. His Twitter account also does not mention that he is an MP and part of the BJP.
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore: The ex-Army Man and Olympic medalist, he was given independent charge of the ministry of youth affairs and sports in 2017, a portfolio that he held till May 2019. However, after being left out of the cabinet in 2019, Rathore has been almost absent from party activities. The Jaipur rural Lok Sabha MP is the national spokesperson of the BJP, but is hardly seen on TV debates or at press conferences keeping the party’s point of view.
Birender Singh: A well-known face in Haryana politics, Chaudhary Birender Singh ended his 40-years-old association with the Congress party and joined the BJP in 2014. He was given charge of the ministry of rural development, ministry of panchayati raj and ministry of drinking water and sanitation after BJP came to power in the same year. He was also the minister of steel from 2016 to 2019. Singh resigned from Rajya Sabha after the BJP fielded his son Brijendra Singh from Hisar Lok Sabha seat. Birender had said he would remain active in politics, but not fight any election. He had also commented on the Lakhimpur Kheri violence and said that there were facts that hint at it as being a planned accident.
Mahesh Sharma: Former Union culture minister, who was known for making controversial remarks, Mahesh Sharma was left out when PM Modi constituted his team for his second term in office in 2019. Sharma was expected to play a key role in UP election as a Brahmin leader, but he was mostly confined to his GautamBuddha Nagar Lok Sabha constituency, campaigning for Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s son Pankaj Singh in Noida.
K.J. Alphons: The former IAS officer-turned-politician was tourism minister in the Modi government from 2017 to 2019. He lost the Lok Sabha election in 2019 and has been keeping a very low profile since then. Although he is a member of the Rajya Sabha, he hasn’t been given any responsibility in the government or the BJP.
M.J. Akbar: A high-profile journalist, Akbar was minister of state for external affairs from 2016 to 2018 when he had to resign due to allegations of sexual misconduct. He had joined the BJP in 2014 and was made national spokesman. He has been in political wilderness since resigning from the government.
Jayant Sinha: The Hazaribagh MP is the son of former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, a senior politician who quit the BJP. He was first the MoS in the ministry of finance from 2014 to 2016, but later shifted to the ministry of civil aviation as an MoS from 2016-2019. He is mostly seen in his constituency in Jharkhand. Sinha actively shares and promotes party activities on his social media.
What some of these leaders say
Alphons, former MoS and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan, said he feels freer now as there are many responsibilities and deadlines to meet as a minister. “Now I have more freedom to raise issues, I am continuously raising issues in Zero Hour, which you can check with the Parliament,” he told ThePrint.
Another ex-minister Nihal Chand said: “As MP you have a responsibility to raise people’s problems in the House and to address them. We are working to make sure the BJP government returns in Rajasthan.”
Recently, Uma Bharti told ThePrint that she is raising awareness for prohibition of alcohol in MP, is engaged in social programmes and has requested CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan to implement alcohol prohibition in the state. “As far as politics is concerned, the party will decide about my Lok Sabha seat which I will fight in 2024,” she said.