Joshi bows out, but tells voters the party asked him not to contest
The veteran BJP leader has had a long innings marked with ideological controversies.
After 91-year-old LK Advani, it is the turn of 85-year-old Murli Manohar Joshi to bow out.
The former BJP chief -- who was Union Minister of Human Resource Development in the Vajpayee government -- has written to the voters of his constituency Kanpur that he has been asked by BJP general secretary (organisation) Ramlal not to contest elections from Kanpur or elsewhere.
Before Kanpur, he was MP from Varanasi, the seat from which Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
The BJP has in recent years insisted that 75 should be the "retiring age" for party leaders.
A former physics professor at Allahabad University, Joshi was one of the most high-profile leaders of the BJP till the early 2000s.
However, his profile gradually fell over the last decade.
Advani apart, Joshi was one of the mentors of Modi.
When Joshi was party president in 1991, he took out an Ekta Yatra that culminated in Srinagar's Lal Chowk, where he unfurled the tricolour, on January 26, 1992. These were early days of militancy in the valley.
Modi had accompanied Joshi in this yatra, and the photographs of the Lal Chowk event show a younger Modi standing beside his then boss Joshi.
Years later, when the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee came to power, Joshi was made HRD minister.
His stint was full of controversy, with critics accusing him of seeking to "saffronise" education. '
Joshi got NCERT history textbooks rewritten, and talked about the introduction of Vedic astrology and value education.
He also reduced the fees of the Indian Institutes of Management, wondering why management education should be expensive when it did not involve much use of high technology, unlike engineering.
While many hailed this decision, it was in the realm of history writing that Joshi faced criticism from historians.
The older NCERT books were discontinued and a set of fresh books was commissioned.
Many said that these were not as rigorous as the previous ones.
However, scholars on the right argued that the older Class-11 and 12 NCERTs -- written by RS Sharma, Satish Chandra and Bipan Chandra -- were too detailed for school students.
"Students used those books to prepare for the civil services. That isn't the aim of school education," right-leaning archaeologist SP Gupta had told me, standing by the changes introduced.
Later, when the UPA came to power in 2004, the NDA's textbooks were again replaced by a new set of books.
Unlike Joshi, the HRD ministers in the Modi government could not commission new NCERTs to replace the old. All that they did was to review them, recommending minor "corrections".
"Unlike Dr. Joshi, the present government has allowed books written by left and liberal scholars to continue," a history professor close to the right told me.
Joshi's time also saw changes in the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR).
Veteran historian KS Lal -- considered close to the right -- was made ICHR chairman, to be replaced by MGS Narayanan, a respected scholar who had shifted rightwards in the days of the Vajpayee government. Arun Shourie also created a flutter by penning down Eminent Historians, a book that was critical of left-wing scholars.
Joshi has, however, stood by the changes he sought to introduce in education ever since.
A few years back, I asked him in Parliament what he thought about those days and the criticism he faced from professional scholars.
"I did not get history rewritten. I just got it rectified," he said. "A senior left historian asked me sarcastically during a meeting whether articles published in RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya would now be considered research. I replied, with equal measure of sarcasm, that I was surprised he did not understand the difference between popular journalistic writing and research."
After spending some years away from the limelight in UPA days, Joshi came back to prominence as the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, as it looked into the 2 G spectrum allocation in 2011 during UPA II. The PAC went through a stormy phase at this time, as Joshi sought to pin down the government on the allocations and Congress members tried to stonewall his attempts.
Over the decades, Joshi has been known as a veteran politician with a touch of pride in what he sees as his intellectual abilities. His press conferences have tended to be long and pedantic. He has been known to be quick to snub people, if they are unable to strike a conversation with him the way he wishes them to. However, he also has a sharp wit, as journalists who have attended his annual tea party at his official residence close to the Le Meridien Hotel in the capital will endorse.
A decade back, the otherwise old-style politician had launched his blog, addressing a press conference for the same.
He said that the blog would not be just about politics; rather, it would be his way to connect with people on a range of issues.
As the presser ended, a journalist irked Joshi with the question: "Advani ji had also started a blog. Are you following in his footsteps?"
Joshi walked up to the journalist once the cameras were off, and said, visibly peeved: "I am surprised at the level of your intellect. When there are so many things in the world worth discussing, all you could think of was this?"