Even as the political battle intensified in Madhya Pradesh and lawmakers started to reveal their true colours, one man of utmost importance was soaking in the many hues of Holi far away in Uttar Pradesh (UP), in his hometown Lucknow. He is none other than Lalji Tandon, former UP minister from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and presently the governor of MP.
Many journalists reached out to him, eager to get a soundbite in this hour of politically tumult. But Tandon was all smiles as he limited himself to just extending Holi greetings while serving delicious gujiyas to the media persons.
Clearly, the governor was in no hurry, or that was what he intended to communicate. All this despite the fact that beleaguered Madhya Pradesh chief minister Kamal Nath had already sent him a letter, requesting immediate sacking of six of his cabinet colleagues.
This is the kind of political functioning that Tandon has mastered over the decades. In local parlance, it’s the typical Lucknowi-style of moving unhurriedly, chewing something fine before swallowing it.
Now, as he heads back to Madhya Pradesh following a long Holi vacation, one is likely to see more of this style from the veteran politician who now occupies a key constitutional office.
Having seen and reported for long on Tandon, senior Journalist Brijesh Shukla says, “Tandon is a diehard saffronist, but he excels at the art of political navigation in such a manner that his moves against rivals have never been ugly or rude. He is one of those last surviving leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party, who have maintained good personal relations across the political spectrum. Now, as he holds a non-partisan constitutional office, it will be interesting to see how he navigates between the demands of his parent political party and the constitutional responsibilities.”
Born and brought up in Lucknow, Tandon got associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and erstwhile Jan Sangh when he was young. However, his links with saffron politics never limited his outreach and connections with people from different sections of society. Hindus or Muslims, Rightists or socialists – Tandon has always kept his doors open for all.
Having started as a corporator in early 1970s, Tandon entered the upper house of the UP legislature a decade later. However, his meteoric rise within the BJP and saffron politics came with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s entry in the electoral race from the constituency of Lucknow in 1991.
Tandon became the election manager for the BJP stalwart. His political connect across the social spectrum came as added advantage in the constituency which did not just have a sizeable Muslim population but also had a very distinct secular character. Since then, he has not looked back.
As the bond between the two grew stronger. Tandon steadily climbed up the ladder within the BJP. He was appointed the urban development minister in the first BJP government in UP, with Kalyan Singh as chief minister.
In 1998, as differences emerged between Singh and Vajpayee, Tandon was caught in the crossfire. Amid competitive political shows of strength by the CM and the party’s national leadership, Tandon firmly stood with the PM’s camp.
This gradually earned him the title of political heir to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when it came to his constituency of Lucknow. As Vajpayee gradually withdrew from the political arena because of ill health, Tandon was the natural choice for replacing him as the BJP candidate from Lucknow in the 2009 parliamentary elections. He was elected to the 15th Lok Sabha by a margin over 40,000 votes over Rita Bahuguna Joshi of the Congress.
In 2014, as he was denied a poll ticket and was forced to pave the way for Rajnath Singh, many thought it was the end of the political journey for Tandon, a man well versed in the “Atal school of politics” that seems lost in the era of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
However, Tandon’s old-school practice of patience and buying time in politics didn’t go in vain. As former BBC correspondent Ram Dutt Tripathi says, “Lucknow is known for the culture of ‘pehle aap (after you)’. Tandon has mastered it in his political discourse. So, even when it comes to fighting the odds, he refrains from being the one to deliver the first blow.”
This style of politics slowly brought the focus back on to him, as he got the governorship of Bihar in August 2018 and was then shifted to Madhya Pradesh in 2019.
Now, in his mid-80s, Tandon finds himself confronted with a new political challenge of navigating through the evolving turmoil in Madhya Pradesh. It’s unlikely, though, that the crisis would cramp his style.