Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran Jaswant Singh on Sunday put his party in a tight spot by announcing he would file nomination papers for Barmer, prompting Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje to step in to quell the growing dissent in the saffron brigade.
Jaswant said he would submit his papers on Monday at 4:30pm. "Whether as an independent candidate or not will depend on the party's attitude," he told PTI, sending the ball in the BJP's court.
The 76-year-old leader, who currently represents Darjeeling in Lok Sabha, is upset because the BJP gave the Barmer election ticket to ex-Congressman Sonaram Chaudhary, who is believed to be in the good books of Raje. Jaswant, born in Barmer's Jasol village, had wanted to contest from his home turf.
The Rajput and Muslim communities are rallying behind Jaswant and could upset the BJP's game plan in Barmer. He attacked the party leadership, saying, "BJP has been taken over by elements who have never respected the party's ideology."
On party president Rajnath Singh's remarks that his services would be utilised appropriately, Jaswant said, "I am not a piece of furniture. The choice of the adjective 'adjust' itself is indicative of the mentality behind it."
Jaswant, however, said he would not switch loyalties and join the Congress. "I was born and brought up in BJP and never thought of joining any other party." There was speculation that some Congress leaders from Delhi were in touch with Jaswant.
His son Manvendra Singh, an MLA in the Raje government, is likely to follow in his footsteps. But, Manvendra, who skipped a meeting of legislators called by Raje, dismissed the reports suggesting he had conveyed to the party his displeasure over the treatment meted out to his father.
"I told the party that I am stressed out and need some rest," he said. Manvendra's secretary, Ram Singh, said that doctors had advised him a month's bed rest.
Party sources said some BJP leaders were in talks with Jaswant and Manvendra, and were trying to persuade them. However, a senior leader said Raje was firm that tickets would not be changed.
On Sunday evening, Raje called a meeting of legislators from Barmer, Sikar and Bharatpur and some Rajput leaders. In a display of unity, MLAs from Barmer said after the meeting that they would abide by the party decision and work for the party candidate.
Meanwhile, Subhash Meheria, who was denied the BJP ticket from Sikar, announced that he would file his nomination as an independent candidate on Wednesday.
Meheria, a three-time BJP parliamentarian and a Jat leader, claimed that not only the Jats but others too were supporting him against 'outsider' BJP candidate Sumedhanand, who is from Haryana.
Earlier in the day, Jaswant's entry to Barmer district turned out to be a show of strength. Thousands of supporters welcomed him as he entered Dolikallan village at 10am.
Around 500 vehicles were part of the procession. Supporters of Jaswant and Sonaram Choudhary had a run-in at Balotara, around 80 km from Barmer.
En route to his native village, Jaswant offered prayers at Nagana temple.