Analysis | Has Thiruvananthapuram turned out to be Rajeev Chandrasekhar’s Waterloo?

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Rajeev Chandrasekhar's post on X. Photo: Rajeev Chandrasekhar/X

After he put up a commendable fight in the general elections against Congress leader Shashi Tharoor in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha constituency, Rajeev Chandrasekhar's return to the third Narendra Modi ministry was widely seen as imminent.
However, in what was seen as a dramatic sideshow on the day of swearing-in, Chandrasekhar announced on X (formerly Twitter) that he was ending his public life. He said: "Today curtains down on my 18-year stint of public service, of which 3 years I had the privilege to serve with PM @narendramodi ji's TeamModi2.0".

When speculation thickened that he was miffed at being dropped from Modi's team, Chandrasekhar promptly replaced the tweet saying it was put out by an "intern in his team".

"A tweet -- tweeted by a new young intern in my team -- thanking everyone for their inspiration and support during these 18 years of public service as MP, has created some confusion among a section of people about my future political work. In order to avoid any further complexities on this, the tweet stands deleted," he said.

The new tweet took out the impulsiveness of the first. There was no word about ending public service. "My work and commitment to taking India forward and Thiruvananthapuram, as a karyakarta of BJP remains as relentless as before," he said. He also clarified that what ended was his "18-year-long stint as a MP and my 3 years as Minister of State in the Council of Ministers under Hon'ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji".

However, in the first tweet, there was a clear hint that the decision "to end public service" was not predetermined but was forced by immediate political developments, possibly government formation. Contrary to expectations, Chandrasekhar was not invited to be part of Narendra Modi's new Cabinet.

"I certainly didn't intend to end my 18 years of public service, as a candidate who lost an Election, but that's how it's turned out," his deleted tweet said. In between the tweet was an emoji that suggested Chandrasekhar laughing at himself. Political observers interpreted this as Chandrasekhar saying that it was a folly not to have seen the injustice coming.

Let down by BJP
Chandrasekhar was the Minister of State for the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, and Ministry of Jal Shakt, in the second Modi government.
There was a feeling in the BJP circles that Chandrasekhar would be reinducted as the party had found in him the best bet to snatch the Thiruvananthapuram Lok Sabha seat from the Congress. But political developments in the last year indicate that the party wanted Chandrasekhar to put in the hard yards to stay relevant.

A case in point was the way the party rebuffed his earlier attempts to seek a fourth term as Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka -- he was a Rajya Sabha MP from 2006 to April 2024. In his place, the BJP had nominated former MLC and veteran hardline RSS leader Narayan Sa Bhangde to its only Rajya Sabha seat from Karnataka. Therefore, for him to stay afloat in politics, Chandrasekhar had to smell battlefield gunpowder.

Here too the party did not seem helpful. It was indifferent to Chandrasekhar’s desire to contest from Bengaluru Central, a constituency held by the BJP since its formation in 2009. The BJP persisted with its three-time MP from the constituency, P C Mohan. Thiruvananthauram was his next option. He put up a valiant fight against Shashi Tharoor but fell slightly short.

Coalition's martyrs
Fact is, none of the former ministers who had lost at the hustings – be it former Union minister for women and child development Smriti Irani or controversial former Union minister of state for home affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra or former Union minister of state for education Subhas Sarkar or former minister of agriculture and farmers’ welfare Arjun Munda -- have been called back. Even a former minister and a popular young BJP leader who had won the polls -- Anurag Thakur -- has not been accommodated.

But Anurag's dignified response at being dropped is now contrasted with Chandrasekhar's seeming resentment. Here's Thakur's tweet: "Those who got a place are worthy of congratulations. I am a BJP Worker. Being elected as an MP for the fifth time is an honour for me."

It is also said that both Chandrasekhar and Thakur are one of the first victims of the new coalition era.

Further, there is a feeling that the party prefers another young leader from Karnataka, Tejaswi Surya, over him. Surya has won his second Lok Sabha battle, and unlike Chandrasekhar, unapologetically whips up communal passion.

Entrepreneur to minister
An entrepreneur by instinct, Chandrasekhar is considered one of the most prominent second rung BJP leaders. He was one of the first young business leaders a rising BJP under Narendra Modi had coopted into the party in the early 2000s. In 1995, he founded BPL Connect, India's first pager and mobile service company. And in 2005, he founded Jupiter Capital, an investment and financial services firm.

As the MoS for electronics and information technology, Chandrasekhar had proposed the Digital India Act, to replace the Information Technology Act (IT Act) of 2000. He was also a fierce defender of the controversial Digital Personal Data Protection Bill of 2023, which was passed in just 52 minutes.

Chandrasekhar had even taken on former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey who had alleged that the Indian Government had threatened to shut down Twitter in India if accounts supportive of farmers' protests were not blocked. Chandrasekhar had responded by saying that Twitter under Jack Dorsey indulged in repeated and continuous violations of Indian law.

Tvm challenge
Wresting Thiruvananthapuram from Congress's Shashi Tharoor was the biggest political challenge the BJP threw at him. Chandrasekhar went about the campaign with professional elan. Unlike most BJP candidates, he ran a development-themed campaign that had strictly kept out divisive rhetoric. By projecting a cosmopolitan and visionary image, Chandrasekhar very nearly neutralised Tharoor's 'global Indian' image.

However, his well-oiled campaign did go off the rails temporarily when he submitted his election affidavit. Though considered a millionaire, the affidavit showed that he did not have any taxable income in 2022. His investment in bonds, debentures/shares, and units in companies/mutual funds and others, worth Rs 45 crore, was also not factored in. Even his posh home in Bengaluru's Koramangala was not included in his immovable assets.

Rajeev Chandrasekhar and Shashi Tharoor. Photo: Manorama

Early years
Chandrasekhar was born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, to Malayali parents Air Commodore M K Chandrasekhar and Valli Chandrasekhar. His parents originally belong to Pattambi in Palakkad.

The unsettled nature of his father's job led to Chandrasekhar's school days spread across various parts of India. He studied electrical engineering at Manipal Institute of Technology, and completed Masters in Computer Science in 1988 from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago.

He was hand-picked to join Intel by no less a person than Vinod Dham, an engineer and venture capitalist known as the 'Father of the Pentium Chip'. At Intel, where he worked from 1988 to 1991, he was part of the architectural team that designed I486 processor.

Guruvayur connection
It was a visit to Guruvayur in Kerala in 1991, as part of his marriage, that convinced him to stay back in India. There, he was reminded that it was time for him to renew his American 'green card'.

For this he had to call the American embassy in Delhi from Guruvayur. He tried to make a trunk call, and then an 'urgent' trunk call. The first had a waiting time of over five hours, and the second at least two hours. Then he tried the prohibitively costly 'lightning trunk call'. He got through to the embassy but neither he nor the embassy person could hear what the other person said.

"This was a moment of epiphany," Chandrasekhar had said in an interview. "This proved that there was market for telecom in India," he said. Three years later in 1994, after cutting through India's notorious red tape, Chandrasekhar founded BPL Mobile, India's first pager and mobile company. At that point, the world was in the cusp of a cellular revolution.

In July 2005, he sold his 64 per cent stake in BPL Communications to Essar Group for $1.1 billion. Rajeev founded Jupiter Capital in 2005, with an initial investment of $100 million, and currently has investments and managed assets of over $800 million in technology, media, hospitality, and entertainment.

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