A clutch of BJP veterans received support on Friday after appearing isolated over their attacks on the top leadership this week following a crushing defeat in the Bihar polls that has opened up the fault lines in the party.
Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar, one of four senior leaders who came out with a biting joint statement on Diwali, said he was content that a debate had started within the party over the issues they had raised.
“Arun Jaitley met LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. A debate has started within the party. It is satisfying for us,” he told HT over the phone. “The only purpose behind our statement was to ensure that leaders responsible for the Bihar debacle don’t go unquestioned.”
Advani, Kumar, Joshi and Yashwant Sinha –sidelined since Narendra Modi came to power last year— had said in their statement that the organisation had been “emasculated” in the past year and was being “forced to kowtow to a handful”, seen as an oblique reference to the Prime Minister and BJP president Amit Shah.
A member of the Lok Sabha, Kumar said he and the others would wait for the party to respond to their demand for a review before deciding their future course of action.
The veterans flexed their muscles again on Friday with former finance minister Sinha holding separate meetings with Joshi and Advani in the evening to determine their next step.
Amid the brewing dissension, union minister Nitin Gadkari clarified a previous statement, saying he did not ask for action against the veterans and the BJP central leadership was discussing with them the issues they had raised.
“Party elders including LK Advani and MM Joshi are our highly respected leaders. Neither I nor any other party functionary has ever shown any disrespect to them and there is absolutely no question of anyone seeking an explanation from them or demanding disciplinary action against them,” he said. “Reports in a section of the media indicating that I have suggested to party president Shri Amit Shah to initiate disciplinary action against them are absolutely incorrect and misleading.”
On Friday, the party’s Bihar MP RK Singh backed the veterans’ demand for fixing responsibility after the four men received little support for days over their stance.
“Accountability has to be fixed. A review should be done of the election debacle,” he said. “We need to find out what went wrong, who were responsible.”
Singh did not campaign for the party during the assembly election after the BJP leadership overlooked his objections to fielding candidates with criminal antecedents.
“We thought we were a party with a difference. We will give a clean government,” he said. “Then you give tickets to criminals. That is very bad, very sad.”
Member of Parliament from the national capital Manoj Tewari was also critical of the party’s Bihar canvassing and said the strategy of the grand alliance led by chief minister Nitish Kumar was “undoubtedly better”. The Bhojpuri actor was one of the party’s star campaigners in the polls.
“We clearly failed to convince the people of Bihar on our party’s agenda,” he said. “We could have campaigned in a more strategic way to reach out to the masses.”
Urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu, however, expressed disappointment over the veterans going public with their disagreement.
“Some of our senior leaders have raised certain issues,” he said. “It would have been better if these issues were raised in a party forum rather than in public, but still we will take note of these views and concerns.”