With Jaswant Singh’s position as the leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha becoming extremely vulnerable following “the mole and forged letter” controversy, hectic lobbying has begun within the BJP and the Sangh Parivar on who should be his successor.
According to informed sources, RSS chief K.S. Sudershan has told the top BJP leadership that Singh’s continuation in the post would harm the image of the party further. He also said if Singh does not step down on his own, then other options should be explored.
Former Union minister Sushma Swaraj has emerged as the frontrunner for the post as she is being backed by L.K. Advani, who still calls the shots in the party.
His camp is understood to have conveyed to the Sangh that Sushma alone could be Singh’s replacement. Otherwise, Singh should be allowed to continue in his present position.
However, Sushma’s candidacy does not seem to be acceptable to others who feel she may steal a march over other young leaders. She is also seen as someone who does not have the required seniority in Sangh politics.
It is also surprising that Sudershan, who had backed her on earlier occasions, has not made a pitch for her this time apparently because of pressure from his colleagues.
BJP chief Rajnath Singh as also three past presidents — Dr Murali Manohar Joshi, M. Venkaiah Naidu and Jana Krishnamurthy — are also RS members. In addition, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha are there in the RS.
Besides, Najma Hepatullah, though a new entrant in the party, is a very senior member of the Upper House. It is felt that Sushma may find it difficult to carry all of them with her given that even her own colleagues may not cooperate with her on many crucial issues.
The RSS had in the past shown its preference for Dr Joshi who it is felt has the requisite seniority and status to command respect from all others.
In addition, he will be seen as a Brahmin face whose presence could be exploited in the UP elections next year given that the Brahmins had started moving away from the BJP following Rajnath Singh’s appointment as the party chief.
But the problem in his case is the stiff opposition from the Advani camp, which would rather settle for anyone else than supporting him. His chances can brighten only if the RSS makes his appointment a prestige issue and A.B. Vajpayee decides to back him with all sincerity.
In the power play that is set to follow, many others are likely to stake their claim hoping to become compromise candidates in the event of a deadlock. In this context, Venkaiah Naidu could be asked to step in.
But if the party looks at a long-term strategy, Jaitley could be asked to fill the gap given that he has the competence to pull it off as a successful leader of opposition and emerge as the future face of the party.
The mole issue has taken its toll. The anti-Singh camp knows this is a chance that should not be missed. It is of course to be seen how long will the war will last.