Shanti Bhushan has praised Kiran Bedi at Arvind Kejriwal’s expense. The BJP has gone to town touting the testimonial as one coming from a founding member of the Aam Aadmi Party. Nobody can dispute that. Besides being a founder, the veteran Supreme Court lawyer was a generous funder of the party in its fledgling days.
But there’s another indisputable fact that might be unknown to young voters wooed by rival contestants in the ongoing election campaign. Bhushan was a founding member of the BJP in 1980 after the fall of Morarji Desai’s government. If he has been the AAP’s funder, he was the saffron party’s treasurer till the mid-eighties.
The Janata regime had collapsed on the ‘dual membership’ of its erstwhile Jana Sangh constituents — the BJP’s precursors — who retained and refused to snap links with the RSS. After the BJP’s launch, Bhushan, who was Morarji’s law minister, became its national treasurer, a position he held till 1986.
The lawyer-politician quit the BJP when its top leadership distanced itself from a petition he had filed with their consent to establish that Rajiv Gandhi won the 1984 polls on a “communal” agenda in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh security guards.
He detailed the circumstances that caused his exit in his book titled Courting Destiny. The political objective behind t he case was to replicate what Bhushan could achieve as Raj Narain’s lawyer in an election petition in 1975 by way of Indira Gandhi’s disqualification that led to the imposition of the Emergency and Congress’s fall from power in the 1977 polls.
Filed at the instance of the BJP’s national executive, the petition Bhushan couldn’t pursue in the court concerned the South Delhi Lok Sabha constituency from where VK Malhotra lost to the Congress’s Lalit Maken. That the latter’s decision to not push the petition had the tacit support of AB Vajpayee and LK Advani prompted Bhushan to walk out of the party.
For his part, Malhotra gave up the litigation consequent to the assassination of Maken by Sikh militants.
Bhushan wrote in his book that the petition was filed in the Delhi High Court on behalf of two voters in Malhotra’s constituency. The game plan was to prove that Rajiv Gandhi made communally charged speeches as a step towards making out against him a case of corrupt practice. That would have set the stage for seeking his disqualification as prime minister.
What upset Bhushan more was that instead of withdrawing the petition, Malhotra had it dismissed by the court for want of prosecution. That blocked legal avenues to revive the case by impleading voters others than those cited in the original petition.
The final parting came when Malhotra was fielded in the byelection caused by Maken’s death despite his protestations that he be acted against for allowing the case against Rajiv Gandhi to hit a dead end. “To my mind the petition was one of national importance,” he recalled in the book.
The Malhotra episode was interpreted by the estranged AAP leader as proof of BJP reverting to its parivar’s Hindutva basics after the ‘secular’ Janata Party experiment. Quite astounding in this context is his praise of Kiran Bedi as the CM candidate of BJP with a revisionist national agenda.