It showed up first in a weekly gossip column some 10 days back:
In Gujarat, Modi kept a close watch on what his Cabinet colleagues and others in the party were up to. The PM seems to have developed an effective feedback mechanism in Delhi as well. Recently, the son of a minister was reportedly asked to come to Modi’s residence. The PM praised him for his good work, but then slipped in a remark that had the young man rattled. Modi said it had come to his knowledge that some money had exchanged hands for the posting of an official. Modi asked him to return the money. The son and his father certainly got the message.
The rumours in the Delhi grapevine had of course done the rounds earlier, but once it reached the mainstream press gossip columns, it was soon on Twitter, with the ever-faithful Modi bhaktas presenting it as the great deed of their Great Leader.
Of course, there was no question as to why a case of corruption was not made out or pursued.
It was great PR for the Great Leader. Similar to the earlier story about being R-Negative, or that certain ministers had been specifically asked to keep away from a certain industrialist, the younger brother of the one from whom distancing had earlier been much proclaimed and propagated.
In the current case, where the home minister's name -- and that of his son Pankaj Singh -- was made public by the Economic Times today, different names of ministers, at least all those possible contenders with sons old enough to be independently wheeling and dealing, had earlier done the rounds.
In this version of the story, it was the appointment of a high-up police officer. In another version, with another minister and son, other departments were mentioned.
But with the country's premier financial paper frontpaging the home minister's name and pointing out that he was not only upset with a ministerial colleague for spreading "malicious and false stories about his son" but had also "raised the matter with the highest echelons of BJP and RSS", some reaction was inevitable.
And the reactions came thick and fast. First via Twitter and then official statements. In a hurriedly called interaction with journalists outside his office in North Block, an emotional Singh made a brief statement:
"In the last 15-20 days, there have been continuous rumours in the air about me and my family. I thought rumours have no basis and these will end in some days.
"But I am seeing that these rumours are gaining momentum day-by-day. I want to assure the nation that the day allegations, even prima facie or even small, are proven against me or my family, I will quit politics and public life and sit at home"
Simultaneously, the PMO also issued a statement:
This has reference to reports appearing in a section of the media over the past several weeks, mentioning the Prime Minister, and referring to the conduct of some Union Ministers, and alleged misconduct of the Home Minister`s son.
The reports are plain lies, motivated and constitute a malicious attempt at character assassination and tarnishing the image of the Government.
Those indulging in such rumour-mongering are damaging the interest of the nation.
These reports are strongly denied.
Amit Shah followed it up with a detailed statement of denial. One could not help but be reminded the old journalistic adage: never believe a rumour unless it is officially denied.
Rajnath Singh, in his earlier stint as BJP president, it was publicly well-known and documented, did not have a good equation with Arun Jaitley, another contender to the #2 slot in Mr Modi's cabinet. The differences between the two were known to have been quite acute in the run up to the 2009 elections. But in his last stint as BJP president, the two seemed to have made up. Given the past, however, it was not surprising for the grapevine to be abuzz, speculating about which "ministerial colleague" was being seen as responsible for these "stories".
That the news came on the heels of the old guard of A.B. Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and M.M. Joshi being removed from the party's parliamentary board was also being seen as significant. Particularly because the newspaper report that set today's evens off had also stated that 'the divisions at the high table of the Modi government" were being described by senior BJP leaders as a reflection of "a power struggle" within the party.
Mr Rajnath Singh himself had been said to harbour prime-ministerial ambitions earlier; even after Mr Modi's name was announced as the prime-ministerial candidate last year, he was seen as a possible consensus candidate. But after the staggering electoral victory achieved for the party in May this year, the then BJP president who was toasted as the captain of the team, has found his wings clipped in his avatar as the home minsiter.
Stories about Singh being sidelined in the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, and also the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation that he heads, had already been circulating. And then came the denial of a ticket for the September 13 bypolls in Uttar Pradesh to the home minister's son, Pankaj Singh, who is a general secretary in BJP's UP unit. He had been mentioned as a possible contender for a party ticket from either Noida or Lucknow. But BJP president Amit Shah's statement asking senior leaders not to demand tickets for their children was seen as aimed at Singh. While Pankaj Singh was overlooked, old Rajnath baiter Lalji Tandon's son, Gopalji Tandon, was given the ticket to contest from Lucknow-East. This too was talked about as a possible snub forr Singh and a validation of the story doing the rounds.The ET story was of course the proverbial last straw.
That there was trouble brewing with the rise of Amit Shah-Modi combine and marginalising of the old guard and the RSS has been written about, but with today's move it is clear that the power-struggle in the BJP has only gotten more pronounced now.