Union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj's decision to not contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has turned the spotlight on the electoral future of many senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders.
Swaraj, 66, has said the reason for her decision was failing health, triggering speculation that the party may deny tickets to many senior members, particularly those placed in its Margdarshak Mandal, or advisory body, who are all older than her.
The odds of senior leaders such as the BJP patriarch LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Shanta Kumar and Kalraj Mishra not getting Lok Sabha tickets in the upcoming general elections have now increased considerably. Advani is 90 years old, Joshi and Kumar 84, and Mishra 77.
Advani, a former deputy prime minister, currently represents the Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency in his seventh term in the lower house. Joshi is serving his sixth term in Lok Sabha, representing Kanpur.
Another factor that goes against Joshi is that he has been vocal in his criticism of the current BJP leadership. Joshi is the chairperson of the Parliamentary Estimates Committee which recently embarrassed the government by questioning if any action was taken on an RBI report that listed corporate houses with huge non-performing assets.
Mishra was elected for the first time to Lok Sabha from Deoria constituency in 2014. The 77-year-old BJP leader from Uttar Pradesh served as minister of micro, small and medium enterprises between May 2014 and September 2017 in the Modi cabinet. He resigned ahead of the September 2017 cabinet reshuffle, claiming to adhere to the 75-year age cap for "active" political assignments. Remember, Advani and Joshi were denied a berth in the cabinet owing to this cap.
Having said that, Mishra holds considerable influence in Uttar Pradesh politics and has good relations with Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati. A reduced BJP majority in the next Lok Sabha and the saffron party’s search for alliance partners could see Mishra play a crucial role in building bridges with the BSP, if the latter wins a substantial number of seats.
Shanta Kumar, a veteran BJP politician from Himachal Pradesh, was elected from Kangra constituency, serving his fourth term in the lower house.
While Swaraj will not be contesting elections, the veteran BJP MP from Vidisha clarified that she is not retiring from politics. Swaraj could still remain active in politics and get entry from the upper house.
However, in the case of leaders like Advani and Joshi, absence from Lok Sabha elections could effectively mean curtains down on their active political career if the BJP fails to win the next elections. In case of status quo, many senior leaders could be sent from Rajya Sabha or appointed in key constitutional positions, particularly as state governors.
Apart from senior leaders, the party may be inclined to infuse fresh blood by giving tickets to new faces to curb anti-incumbency. Many sitting BJP members of parliament likely may not get ticket on winnability and non-performance factors.
The Narendra Modi led cabinet's average age has been measured at less than 61 years, according to a PTI report, after the last cabinet reshuffle that happened in September last year. Within his cabinet, the Modi has implemented the 75 year age cap for ministers.
In fact, BJP leadership’s discretion in ticket distribution could inspire other political parties as well, particularly the Congress and Samajwadi Party.