A major player has gone
Three leaders have left an indelible impression on Delhi for their ability to not only identify with the people’s issues but also for their genuine desire to solve their problems — Chaudhury Brahm Parkash, Delhi’s first chief minister, HKL Bhagat, the capital’s one time uncrowned king and the irrepressible Madan Lal Khurana, the architect of the BJP in the city. Sahib Singh Verma, BJP vice-president, former CM and Union Minister, who was killed in a road accident recently, may not enjoy such ratings but his passing away is going to make a huge difference to the party and the Outer Delhi constituency that he had nurtured.
In fact, Verma’s loss at this particular juncture will be difficult for his party to recover from. The BJP has lost a formidable leader, in the city. The ramifications of his demise may dawn on the party when it faces the next assembly and parliamentary polls. It will adversely affect the fortunes of his Congress rival Sajjan Kumar who defeated him in 2004. Sajjan was given the ticket only because many in the Congress thought he was was the only one capable of humbling the hard-working Verma.
Verma came from a humble background in Mundka village and graduated into big- time politics after serving in the municipal corporation and Delhi assembly. What is often overlooked while assessing Verma’s eventful political innings is that he got to the centre-stage of politics after outwitting the Punjabi troika of Khurana, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Kidar Nath Sahni. His rise coincided with Delhi’s changing demographics where the Punjabi dominance in the BJP was on the decline. He thus changed many alliances to occupy centre space with the help of colleagues like Vijay Goel, Rajinder Gupta and, to an extent, Purnima Sethi. He also enjoyed the patronage of key central leaders like Pramod Mahajan and subsequently party strongman LK Advani. Verma’s importance grew as he provided the BJP a foothold in outer Delhi with 37 lakh voters. Till his arrival, the BJP had a presence only in six parliamentary constituencies. It had made a valiant attempt during the Jana Sangh days by fielding Mir Singh to face Brahm Prakash in 1967. The Jana Sangh had won six but had predictably lost outer Delhi.
Till 1989, the BJP was not confident of contesting from the constituency and had left the seat to Janata Dal whose nominee Tarif Singh had won the seat. But in 1991 Verma entered the fray against Sajjan and lost in a tightly-contested poll. But the bearded Jat gained in confidence and in subsequent elections in 1996 and 1998, as Chief Minister, he played a major role in getting senior leader Krishan Lal Sharma elected from there. In 1999, he himself won the seat only to lose to Sajjan again in 2004.
The BJP now has a problem on its hands. To begin with, it has no leader in the constituency who can take over from where Verma left off. Devendra Shaukin, NS Rana, Sher Singh Dagar and Pawan Sharma lack Verma’s networking skills and capacity for hard work. They may find it hard to face Congress opponents like Mukesh Sharma, the three-time Hasthal MLA if Sajjan does not get the ticket. The BJP will not have anyone like Verma to anchor the 21 seats in the constituency during the Assembly polls. This can make all the difference in the final outcome.
The situation might not have been this dire were Khurana still in the party. He would have made up with his exceptional networking. Thus, the outer Delhi factor will continue to haunt the party. Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley have the potential but have not proven to be mass leaders. One of them could step into Delhi’s politics to give the BJP a new face and image in the city.
Verma was a man of simple habits. He was always conscious that he could never match Khurana insofar as charisma and grasp over city affairs was concerned. But he was the one who never allowed opportunities to slip by. For instance, when Khurana foolishly resigned from chief ministership in 1996 to express solidarity with LK Advani, Verma was quick to move in. The RSS and Khurana at that point wanted Harsh Vardhan to take over as CM but Verma outmanoeuvred them. There was no looking back. He capitalised heavily on what were perceived to be miscalculations on Khurana’s part in not allowing a business house to set up a power plant in the rural belt and denying a builders’ syndicate the chance to get land-use changed. At the time, Mahajan was a close ally and kept his promise to Verma that he will never allow Khurana to regain the CMship. He convinced the central leadership, which was to replace Verma with Khurana, that Sushma would make a better CM. Verma and Mahajan emerged as mature politicians who could outwit a more illustrious rival. The BJP, however, paid a price for it in the 1998 polls paving the way for Sheila Dikshit to enter the capital’s political space.
Verma’s appeal as a kisan and Jat leader went beyond Delhi’s frontiers. Along with BJP MP from Sonepat Kishen Sangwan, he carried the party’s message to the Jats who were willing to align with the BJP and whose support had helped Vasundhara Raje get more than 120 seats in Rajasthan in 2003. Verma would have played a long innings as he had a mass base and a Lok Sabha constituency. Sahib Singh Verma’s energetic and earthy presence in the capital’s politics will always be missed. Between us.