Joshi pipes down, to toe party line on Varanasi
A day after tempers ran high at a key BJP poll meet over the allocation of Lok Sabha seats and alliances, senior party leader Murli Manohar Joshi indicated on Sunday he had left it to PM candidate Narendra Modi to take a final call on his re-election from Varanasi.
Seeking to end the impression he was in the way of Modi-led BJP's “imminent poll success”, Joshi said the party’s parliamentary board, which also doubles up as its central election committee, would decide on the candidate for the prestigious UP seat.
Modi is under pressure from Uttar Pradesh unit and his strategists led by Amit Shah, a former home minister in his government, to contest from Varanasi as well as Gujarat to maximise the impact in UP and neighbouring Bihar of what they say is a “Modi wave”. Together the two states send 120 members to the Lok Sabha, with UP accounting for 80 MPs — the highest in the country for a state.
With less than a month left for the first round of nine-phase Lok Sabha polls, Saturday’s squabbling raised fresh spectre of infighting threatening electoral prospects in almost a repeat of 2009.
Party sources said efforts were one to persuade Joshi to shift to Kanpur, which would be relatively an “easy seat” for the 80-year-old former BJP chief.
Joshi, who invited media to his residence, said the BJP board would meet on March 13 with Modi in attendance. “I don't think they will take any such decision which would have an adverse impact on Modi’s image, or hurt the prospects of the BJP getting the maximum seats and winning the elections."
Asked if he would accept Modi’s Varanasi candidature, he shot back, "Every disciplined soldier accepts" party's decision, while denying a poster war was on between his supporters and that of Modi in one of the holiest Hindu cities.
Shortly, Sushma Swaraj, who, too, had reportedly asked BJP chief Rajnath Singh to clear air on Varanasi, denied a rift in the party. "I was present in the meeting in Delhi yesterday. Lok Sabha seats for UP did not figure in the deliberations as reported in the media," she said in Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha, her Lok Sabha constituency.
The RSS, which doesn’t want an impression of dissent against Modi being created at this juncture, stepped in as well. "We are worried (about infighting)...But we feel they (BJP) are experienced... They will solve the problem,” said Suresh Bhaiyaji Joshi, the deputy chief of the party’s ideological parent, in Bengaluru.
On Saturday, BJP chief Singh faced some difficult moments when an upset Joshi and Swaraj questioned the party's line on Modi’s candidature and tie-ups with "tainted" leaders. But, on Sunday, both were keen to defuse the tension.
In Lucknow, local MP Lalji Tandon said he would vacate the seat, once held by former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee, for Modi but didn’t seem too eager to do the same for Singh. Neither Modi nor Singh had spoken to him about contesting from Lucknow, he said.
(With inputs from Lucknow)