A day after the new BJP team was announced, corridors of the party’s headquarters were abuzz with the talk of whodunit and escalation of the ‘silent war’ among the second-line leaders ahead of the Lok Sabha polls due in 2009.
A majority of BJP officials said the most significant of the changes – the axing of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi from the party’s parliamentary board and removal of Arun Jaitley as BJP spokesperson – was done by party chief Rajnath Singh only after the approval from AB Vajpayee and the parent body, the RSS.
Singh spent at least two weeks discussing the reshuffle with Vajpayee, LK Advani and the RSS before announcing it on Monday. He wanted to show that, as a full-fledged president for the next three years, he would shape up his own team and dilute the influence of Advani as desired by the RSS, BJP insiders said. Singh wanted the changes before the UP polls so that his position remained insulated by the results, a BJP leader said.
Singh had reasons to curb Modi who had not hidden his intention to shift to the national stage after Gujarat polls in November this year. Jaitley's supporters were saying that he was among the front-runners for projection as Prime Minister candidate.
Other contenders like MM Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj had adopted a low-profile, knowing that the RSS backed Rajnath Singh and no one could replace AB Vajpayee as PM candidate so long as he was around.
In fact, Modi had told the media last year that many BJP leaders thinks that he has no work left undone in Gujarat. Many RSS leaders also felt that he was getting "too big and out of control" with his style of functioning, said another BJP official.
As for Arun Jaitley, he was no doubt a popular face of the BJP with the media but Singh was not too happy with his interactions with the media as the spokesperson. Singh’s aides believed that anti-BJP president stories were fed by people close to him, said a BJP functionary.
Nevertheless, Singh wanted Jaitley to be in charge of the parliamentary board as Pramod Mahajan was once in handling key strategies and alliances. "It is not as if the RSS wanted it but the RSS definitely cleared the axing of Modi and other changes proposed by Singh," said an aide of Singh.
Modi was inducted into board at the instance of LK Advani who did not prevent his removal this time. Vajpayee had never hidden his displeasure that his pleas for removing Modi for the Gujarat riots were not accepted by the BJP under Advani’s dispensation.
Though it was a surprise move, Singh dropped Modi as a 'balancing exercise' to show the Chief Minister’s critics in the Gujarat BJP unit that he had not be granted a carte blanche.
Modi, who managed to project himself as a Hindutva leader and drawn a good response among the cadre at the Lucknow conclave after AB Vajpayee, had his way in the appointment of his supporter, Parsottambhai Rupala, as the head of the Gujarat BJP. Besides, he also packed the district units with his men.
"Modi had been projecting himself as the most powerful among the BJP chief ministers to be part of the Central decision-making body and just waiting to take over the central leadership of the party. The central leaders mdecided to deflate his blown-up authority," said another BJP leader.
At the same time, none of the dissident leaders of Gujarat have been given any position in the central set-up, not even in the 78-member national executive.
Curiously, Sanjay Joshi’s exit as BJP general secretary (organisation) came after nine months since he returned to the powerful post after he got a clean chit from the Madhya Pradesh police over the issue of a sleaze video compact disc (VCD) showing him and a woman.
Joshi’s supporters had suspected the hand of leaders backing Modi and rebel Uma Bharti in the circulation of the VCD that sparked a controversy and forced Joshi to resign during the BJP’s silver jubilee fete held in Mumbai in December 2005.
According to BJP insiders, the exit of Joshi was on the cards since the RSS, which reinstated him in April, feared that the Congress could rake up the issue again, hurting the BJP’s efforts to rebuild the organization.
"The Sangh did not want a person with a sullied image to be in a slot that is No 2 to Singh," said another BJP official. Joshi, however, said he expected the party to give him a fresh assignment.