Derided by its rivals as a party of the traders, the BJP’s loss in the death of Sahib Singh Verma, its “kisan face” in the metropolis, seems incalculable in the run-up to the Delhi Assembly polls due next year.
The Outer Delhi parliamentary constituency the former Delhi CM represented from 1999-2004 returns over 20 seats to the 70-member legislature. His old school ways, his deep network in the area and his Jat lineage that helped him relate to vast sections of his constituents, are qualifications the BJP would sorely miss, now that the party’s one-time urban face, Madan Lal Khurana, is also a parivar drop-out.
Eternal competitors that they were, Khurana and Verma could not stand each other. Yet under the common saffron umbrella, they were, on aggregate, a potent political force. Anti-incumbency might still prove to be the Congress’ undoing at the hustings. But the BJP now lacks in Delhi a second-line leadership matching the likes of Ajay Maken, Minister of State for Urban Development. Struggling still to live down the stigma of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, even Sajjan Kumar, Congress’ sitting Outer Delhi MP, is politically active and quite capable of securing the rural base Verma stole in tandem with party colleague Krishan Lal Sharma in the 1990s.
Sharma twice represented Outer Delhi in Parliament; Verma the man behind the BJP’s success in building beachheads in what traditionally was a Congress stronghold. “He was the jat and the kisan face of our party,” recalled BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley, himself a prominent Delhiite. The lawyer-politician remembered Verma as a grassroots man who reached out to party workers and supporters in times of celebration and grief.
Having served as CM between 1996-98, Verma used hard work to compensate for his lack of charisma. He lost the office he coveted to Sushma Swaraj, whom the party high command found better equipped to lead the BJP in the November 1998 Assembly polls. The gamble of projecting Sushma as the BJP’s face in Delhi failed. For his part, Verma had to wait for over three years for the then Premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee to deliver on his promise of a berth in the Union Cabinet. That hour arrived in 2002 with the Labour portfolio. Another spell of oblivion that followed the NDA’s 2004 defeat had ended lately with Rajnath Singh making him a key member of his organisational team. For the BJP chief, Verma’s exit at a time his leadership is under question in the aftermath of the UP debacle, is no less painful than Pramod Mahajan’s, said a party insider.
A man with habits that betrayed his humble origin, Verma was born to a farmer in Delhi’s Mundka village. In fact, on relinquishing the chief ministership in 1998, he and his family rode from the CM’s official bungalow to his permanent address—- a flat in Shalimar Bagh—- in a DTC bus.
In the hurry to board the waiting bus, Verma left behind his spouse who followed him in another vehicle. This time around, he’s gone forever.