The spotlight will be on the BJP shortly, with its central leadership likely to announce some important changes. The saffron party is desperately trying to cope with unexpected developments, including the decision of Uma Bharti’s newly-formed organisation to contest all seats in Uttarakhand. This may harm the BJP’s chances of wresting control of the state from the Congress.
Uma Bharti has been lying low, but her appeal among cadres is as strong as ever. She is undoubtedly the most charismatic of the saffron brigade’s second generation leaders, notwithstanding the fact that several political observers have reservations over her ability to govern well. There is no doubt whatsoever that she can easily spoil the BJP’s prospects, especially in Uttarakhand, where her position as a sanyasin leader is undisputed.
The BJP had been buoyant when polls were announced in Uttarakhand. It had considered victory over the Congress, which has been struggling to overcome the rivalry between ND Tewari, Harish Rawat and Satpal Maharaj, an easy affair. But its campaign did not take off as well as expected. It had announced that BC Khanduri, who enjoys the best reputation among its leaders from the state, would head its campaign. But opposition to his name forced the central leadership to clarify that no one was being projected as a chief ministerial candidate, to the great satisfaction of Bhagat Singh Koshiari, who is state unit president and a former CM.
Now the news of Bharti’s group setting up candidates in all the assembly segments, after unconfirmed reports of some of her aides meeting top Congress leaders, has caused concern in BJP circles. Bharti is expected to push her campaign in the coming week and if plans go off as expected, leaders like Madan Lal Khurana and former Delhi Mayor Rajendra Gupta may join her.
Khurana, who was unwell a couple of months ago and was considering returning to the BJP fold on the suggestion of a senior BJP leader, appears to have made this decision after having faced humiliation by some BJP minions. Rajendra Gupta is the son of late Hansraj Gupta, an RSS stalwart who had played a major role in shaping the destiny of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh in the capital. Many political pundits describe Khurana and Gupta as spent forces, but they do form a formidable camp against the BJP in the light of the forthcoming municipal polls. No leader in Delhi, whether in the BJP or the Congress, can match Khurana’s electoral record of having won 10 out of the 11 elections he has contested. And many of those who write him off are yet to contest even one major election or one where he was on the other side.
In Punjab too, the BJP is facing opposition from within and reports suggest that over 30 activists from Amritsar have quit in protest against the decision to give a ticket to a supporter of Navjot Singh Sidhu, instead of a known party activist. It may not be a cakewalk for Sidhu in Amritsar this time if the family of Gurnam Singh, whom he had allegedly beaten to death, takes to the streets.
It is also evident that the party has its share of differences at the central level, some of which had come out in the open during last month’s conclave in Lucknow. The RSS has been concerned about the state of affairs in the BJP, indicated by frequent trips by Sangh general secretary Mohan Bhagwat to Delhi. The BJP is evidently divided three ways and that is not a good sign for its future.
There is also speculation that senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh may have resigned from his post as Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha before leaving for a trip abroad. He is believed to have handed over his resignation to the same senior BJP leader who was earlier egging Khurana to come back to the party fold. However, the leader concerned has reportedly not passed on the letter to the BJP’s central leadership, hoping that things will blow over. But this may prove difficult since the RSS has been cut up with the former foreign minister, especially after the publication of his book, A Call to Honour.
The book had caused tremendous embarrassment to the Sangh once it became clear that the documents mentioned as proof of the presence of a US mole in the PMO were forged. The book had also helped revive the IC-814 hijacking episode, where Singh had accompanied three militants to Kandahar and was also accused of paying money to the Taliban for the release of passengers, who included world currency king Roberto Giori and companion Cristine Calabresi. The Congress and others cite this episode to counter the BJP’s charge that the present government is not dealing effectively with terrorists.
The assembly polls have pressed the Congress against the wall and it is currently engaged in retaining Uttarakhand and Punjab. But the BJP’s plight is no better, and may get worse if it fails in the two states. This may adversely affect its performance in UP subsequently. There are already questions being raised as to why no top BJP leader has visited Nithari, leading to speculation of an understanding between the SP and the BJP. The assembly results will be vital for the BJP’s recovery at the national level. But for this, it will first have to overcome dissent from within. Between us.
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