In a rare show of submission in choosing nominees for bypolls, central BJP leaders led by former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee failed to secure ticket for Varun Gandhi for the Vidisha Lok Sabha seat.
At the meeting of BJP’s central election committee, Madhya Pradesh BJP leaders strongly pitched for local Minister Ram Pal Singh, a confidant of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, as the candidate, and swung the decision in his favour. The election is to take place on October 30.
In another significant decision, the BJP poll panel ignored strong hints from the RSS to recommend its Muslim face, Shah Nawaz Hussain, for the sensitive Bhagalpur Lok Sabha seat.
The decision to deny Varun the chance came after a three-hour deliberation, with central leaders giving up their plea and bowing to the wishes of Chouhan and other state leaders.
Chouhan and other leaders convinced the panel that Varun had to be kept out to respect “local sentiments” and also to deny rebel leader Uma Bharti any scope to upset the BJP’s plan to retain the seat.
“Left to the central leaders, Varun would have been chosen. But resistance from the MP unit was so serious that we had to go by their choice," said a senior BJP leader, who is on the poll panel.
Chouhan, who had been arguing his case against Varun for the last three days, asked the poll panel first to ignore the “unanimous” proposal of the MP unit to consider his wife, Sadhana Singh, and later argued for the candidature of Ram Pal Singh.
Despite the pleas of Vajpayee and Advani, Chouhan stuck to his guns. Interestingly, though RSS chief KS Sudarshan was not against Varun’s nomination, Chouhan had convinced RSS leaders led by Suresh Soni that he would lose if he was nominated because of the Uma Bharti factor. He said a member of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty was no big deal for BJP workers of the constituency, which is considered Chouhan’s family borough.
With the rejection of Varun’s candidature, Chouhan emerged the second BJP Chief Minister (after Narendra Modi) who has had his way in selecting candidates, party leaders said.
The recommendation of the Bihar BJP unit, especially Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi, went in favour of Shahnawaz, despite the fact that he is rated an “outsider” and Bhagalpur has had a history of communal violence. Modi vacated the seat on his election to the state legislative council.
Modi argued that Shahnawaz would be able to make a dent in the 4 lakh Muslim-Yadav votes in Bhagalpur that always went against BJP. Modi had done so when he successfully contested the 2004 polls.
Besides, Shahnawaz had campaigned hard for the NDA in the Bihar polls last year, winning accolades from Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. The JD(U) would back him too.
Agreeing with Modi, central BJP leaders saw Shahnawaz’s candidature as an opportunity to send a Muslim MP to the Lok Sabha to beat the secular brigade’s charge that the party was anti-minorities. Other names that were in the fray included Brahmin leaders Nishikant Dubey and cricketer Kirti Azad and his wife, Poonam. The RSS, which has a sizeable presence in Bhagalpur, wanted a Hindu candidate.
As for the Koderma seat, the party’s choice was Pranav Kumar Verma, son of late Ritlal Verma, who was five times MP. Verma Jr faces the prospect of contesting against BJP rebel and former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi who had vacated the seat when quit the party in May this year.
For the Malhera assembly seat of MP, the BJP’s choice was Kuberchand Guhara who was rated the best bet to taken on Uma Bharti who had resigned the seat on her exit from BJP. Guhara, a ex-CPI candidate, had secured third place in the last polls in 2003.