After a day of intense consultations, central BJP leaders deferred their decision on announcing former minister Harsh Vardhan as the party's chief minister candidate for the Delhi elections. They favoured cooling of tempers within the different BJP factions to enable efforts to bring around Delhi BJP chief Vijay Goel, who is a strong contender for the post, to accept Vardhan's name.
Vardhan had emerged as the best choice both within the BJP and the RSS, which saw him as one with a better image to counter the twin threats faced by the BJP in the December polls.
It is no secret that the saffron party is facing intense heat in many constituencies in Delhi and even fearing being squeezed out, fourth time in a row -- because of the standing of Congress chief minister Sheila Dikshit and the Aam Aadmi Party under Arvind Kejriwal, which was a fledgling outfit but picking up in popularity charts.
The central leaders of BJP, including its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, viewed the Delhi assembly elections as a crucial test ahead of Lok Sabha elections, and the party could not afford to lose it for the fourth time in a row.
With palpable tension building up among the supporters of Goel and those opposed to him, senior leaders including LK Advani, Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, and Nitin Gadkari decided to wait for the return of Arun Jaitely, who has gone abroad, for the final call. Jaitley, who is due to be back late Sunday, would also persuade Goel to accept the decision.
Read more: A profile of Harsh Vardhan
Meanwhile, as supporters of rival BJP factions took to streets, Goel denied that he had offered to quit as the Delhi chief in case of Vardhan's anointment.
Any revolt or sabotage by those backing Goel could further ruin the party chances, feared some central party leaders.
But a top BJP leader said Goel would remain as the Delhi unit chief. He was appointed by party chief Rajnath Singh in February. With the RSS fully against Goel, he might not have much elbow room to stage a revolt, BJP insiders said. The Sangh's assessment also favoured Vardhan.
Goel spent the day talking to his senior colleagues including Rajnath Singh and Gadkari, armed with survey charts showing him at par with Sheila Diskshit to thwart any serious challenge from the Aam Aadmi Party or its leader Arvind Kejriwal.
But other independent surveys done by Nitin Gadkari, who is incharge of the BJP for Delhi, favoured Vardhan, who enjoys a cleaner image due to his record as health minister before the Congress came to power in 1998.
Earlier, Goel met central BJP leaders at 11, Ashok Road to put forward his points. "Senior leaders told him that Vardhan enjoyed better image, and the party had no choice but to name him. This did upset him and he left the venue," said a BJP insider.
However, Goel denied that he was part of any meeting and he was not a member of the BJP's central poll panel, which was in session. "The meeting was called to discuss Chhattisgarh so why would I be part of it? I visit the office everyday and did the same today. There is no question of me being upset," he said.
Anticipating an announcement in his favour, Vardhan's supporters flocked to the party office at Pant Marg, shouting "Harshvardhan zindabaad.' Some supporters gathered outside his residence in Krishna Nagar to congratulate him.
Goel went to attend a function organised by the Purvanchali Morcha at Yamuna Sports Complex.
Two days ago, Goel had publicly asserted that he was a popular choice for chief ministerial post, which triggered rumblings in the party, threatening to derail its campaign to capture power in the capital after 15 years. He got 14 district leaders to call on Rajnath Singh and Gadkari to support his name.
A number of senior Delhi leaders conveyed to the central leaders their "deep anguish" over the "tone and tenor" of Goel projecting himself as BJP's popular face. Later, Gadkari issued a statement, saying that the BJP's parliamentary board will take a decision on the issue.