After creating a flutter in the BJP with his decision to contest elections, former vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat Thursday caused further embarrassment when he suggested that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee join the electoral fray and retorted that party president Rajnath Singh did not "bother" him.
Alleging "political degeneration" in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the veteran leader, who fuelled speculation about his being in the race for the prime ministerial candidature of the party when he stated Tuesday that he would fight the Lok Sabha elections, intensified the war of words.
Asked about BJP president Rajnath Singh's Wednesday statement that a person who had held a constitutional post could not contest elections, Shekhawat shot back: "Which law says that?"
"I don't bother about Rajnath Singh," he said when his attention was drawn to the latter's statement that those "who have had a holy dip in the Ganges don't bathe in a well".
He told reporters that Rajnath Singh had not even been born when he, former prime minister Vajpayee and the BJP's prime ministerial candidate LK Advani were together in the party.
"Me, Atalji and Advani have been together since 1952 when I joined the Jan Sangh. It was the time when Rajnath was not even born and he will take time to understand the BJP," Shekhawat said.
The 86-year-old leader said he would contest the polls and Vajpayee should too "if his health permits".
Advani was deputy prime minister in the Vajpayee government when the party lost the general elections in 2004.
Asserting that he was concerned about "corruption and political degeneration" in the party, Shekhawat reiterated his allegation that the party's tickets for the December 4 Rajasthan assembly elections were sold.
He said he had also written a letter to Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot urging him to inquire into allegations by the ruling Congress party of corruption of Rs 32,000 crore (Rs 320 billion) by the BJP's Vasundhara Raje government.
"I feel sorry for making her the chief minister of the state," he added.
"This money belongs to the people of the state and there should be an inquiry in it. The Congress made these allegations, it should inquire into it and appoint a high level commission for inquiry."
Stunned by Shekhawat's remarks, party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the BJP had "full trust in Vasundhara Raje". "She is our leader, she was our chief minister."
Responding to a question if he would be the BJP's prime ministerial candidate if he won the elections, Shekhawat said: "I never said that."
Pointed out that he was the seniormost leader of the BJP, he said: "Yes, age-wise I am older to Atalji (former prime minister AB Vajpayee) also. I am 86, he is 83 and Advani is 80. But all of us share the same experience."
To further questions, he said: "I have no objection (to Advani being the prime ministerial candidate)."
He added that after becoming the vice president, he did not belong to any party. "Soon after becoming the vice president I resigned (from BJP) and since then have not joined any party," he clarified.
Asked if he was in touch with any other party like Samajwadi Party as was rumoured, he said: "Neither have I met Mayawati (of the Bahujan Samaj Party) or Mulayam Singh (of the Samajwadi Party) nor any other political leader. I will decide (whether to contest as an independent or from a party) later."
He said he wished to fight the elections to achieve his mission of seeing a "corruption free" India. "I have gone through many Supreme Court judgments and will soon start a movement throughout the country against corruption," Shekhawat said.