Time has come for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to take a call on the electoral future of five senior parliamentarians. As the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, the powerful duo in the BJP has to decide on whom to retain and whom to drop in the list of candidates.
The veterans whose political future are hanging in balance - L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shantha Kumar, Kalraj Mishra and Shatrughan Sinha - have been party and government bigwigs both at the National and state levels.
The greatest of them is Advani, the builder of modern BJP who worked closely with Atal Behari Vajpayee for four decades. Advani has been out of favour with the present leadership and none of his disciples occupying top ministerial positions have regularly visited the former deputy prime minister, let alone speak up for him. Yet the 90-year-old veteran attends parliament and party meetings without fail and remains silent by and large. Shah, while not including Advani in the party's highest decision making body, had explained Advani would be in the margadarshak mandal, an advisory body of the party. There are whispers that Advani himself may announce retirement from elections to avoid any possible embarrassment of being denied a ticket.
Joshi is another former party president and union minister, who was sidelined by Modi, even though he is much more audible than Advani in the last four years of Modi rule. This is the eighth term of the 84-year-old physics professor. He was shifted from Varanasi in 2014 so that Modi could contest from the holy city. Like Advani, Joshi has not been invited to any of the election campaigns of the party, but travels for events organised by his supporters in different states. Both of them had joined two bitter inner-party critics of Modi to issue a statement calling for introspection after the BJP lost the 2015 Bihar assembly elections.
Yet Joshi, like another Uttar Pradesh Brahmin veteran Kalraj Mishra, 77, commands some clout among the dominant upper-caste community, which is not very comfortable with the Rajput chief minister Yogi Adityanath. Mishra, a close associate of Vajpayee, had a long stint in state BJP and became a cabinet minister under Modi. Mishra was also a Rajya Sabha member for three terms. The big question is whether he would be renominated from Deoria.
The fourth veteran, who may face the axe is 84-year- old Shanta Kumar, twice chief minister of Himachal Pradesh and a union minister under Vajpayee. The four-term Lok Sabha member from Kangra may miss the bus as his party rival Prem Kumar Dhumal has accused the Shanta Kumar faction of engineering Dhumal's defeat in last year's assembly elections when the party had swept the state.
The fifth stalwart is Shatrughan Sinha, who has been upset with Modi for two reasons. He was not made a central minister despite his seniority and experience. The former Bollywood star's style and dialogues have made him the most-sought after campaigner for the BJP in both urban and rural areas. Yet he was reluctant to campaign in Gujarat when Modi was the chief minister. The prime minister returned the compliment by not involving Sinha in the campaigning for Bihar assembly elections. Sinha had openly expressed support for opposition's chief ministerial candidate Nitish Kumar. He also has been critical of Modi government regularly on social media. Now, Modi and Kumar are together in the NDA and there is strong grassroots demand in Bihar BJP that Sinha should not be ignored.
The 73-year-old actor, who is the Lok Sabha member from Patna, has recently stopped making sarcastic remarks about Modi and his government. He has the best chance among the veterans, but Modi can also spring an unpleasant surprise for the star.