The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) high command has sought to perform quite a balancing act while deciding candidates for two of the three Lok Sabha seats that it is to contest in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) in Punjab. While the ticket for Gurdaspur remains undecided, grave infighting in the BJP state unit cast its shadow on the decisions for Amritsar and Hoshiarpur.
The primary faction led by state BJP chief Kamal Sharma has been placated with the replacement of sitting MP Navjot Singh Sidhu with senior national leader Arun Jaitley from Amritsar.
The other faction has former minister and sitting Jalandhar Central MLA Manoranjan Kalia, Rajya Sabha member Avinash Rai Khanna and Pathankot MLA Ashwani Sharma, who is a former state BJP president. And the candidature of Vijay Sampla from Hoshiarpur, ahead of Phagwara MLA and chief parliamentary secretary (CPS) Som Parkash, is being seen as victory for the Kalia-Ashwani group.
The Sharma group ensured the ouster of Sidhu from Amritsar by apparently convincing the high command that he was “creating an embarrassing position for the BJP by openly criticising the state government”. Sidhu had been on a collision course with the Akali-led regime over alleged indifference towards Amritsar.
As for Hoshiarpur, Som Parkash was rejected even though his name was backed reportedly by the state unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) too. An IAS officer-turned-politician, Parkash had lost the 2009 election from Hoshiarpur to Congress’ Santosh Chowdhary by just 366 votes.
Even as Sampla’s candidature was opposed by former minister Tikshan Sud, who is the political adviser to the chief minister and a key member of the Sharma group within the BJP, the party chose Sampla, the right hand man of Avinash Rai Khanna to balance the Sharma group’s sway. The leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, is also learnt to have backed Sampla’s candidature strongly in the BJP parliamentary board meeting.
“Sampla’s candidature is a definite surprise for everyone as he was far behind Som Parkash in the internal party surveys. But it seems to have come in the wake of Arun Jaitley’s candidature from Amritsar. To ensure Sidhu’s exit, the Sharma faction, including local bodies minister Anil Joshi, played a key role in twisting political equations in which candidature of Jaitely was the best option for them. Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, is a political mentor of the state BJP chief (Sharma),” said a senior party functionary. Ironically, even Sidhu sees Jaitley as his guru.
Sharma sees Jaitley as his mentor as Jaitley had handpicked him for a big role in Punjab politics when, in 2007, Sharma was working as media adviser to Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Delhi.
Sharma insisted, “There is no factionalism in the state unit,” but added, “Though it is right that national leaders like Jaitley contesting from Amritsar will strengthen our party in Punjab and have long-term impact on the state’s politics.”
Party sources said no decision on Gurdaspur was taken because of pressure created by yoga guru Ramdev, who is pressing the BJP to give the ticket to his favourite, Delhi-based businessman Swaran Salaria. Actor-politician and a three-time former MP from Gurdaspur, Vinod Khanna, is also in the fray.