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BJP suspends rebel leader

Lucknow, Oct. 27: The BJP tonight suspended Ganga Bhakta Singh, convener of the dissident BJP Bachao Samiti, in a move reflecting its desperation in the face of mounting rebellion in its Uttar Pradesh unit.

The suspension was announced by state party chief Vinay Katiyar after nearly two dozen rebel legislators went ahead with their meeting and rejected the leadership’s offer to arrange a meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other central leaders.

Simultaneously, senior BJP leader and urban development minister Lalji Tandon threatened the disident MLAs that they will have to choose between “either losing their membership or facing a mid-term poll”.

However, these threats do not seem to have deterred Singh and his fellow dissidents. Political observers feel this might accentuate the crisis in the state BJP.

“We will continue to fight till the leadership concedes our demand that the BJP withdraws from the government and supports it from outside,” Singh told reporters after their meeting this evening.

The decision to crack the whip was taken after the leadership came to know that some BJP disidents were openly hobnobbing with Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh, Katiyar had said at a news conference last night.

The BJP leader did not rule out action against other dissidents, saying “enough is enough and we will not tolerate anti-party activities by anyone”.

He claimed there was no offer from Vajpayee to meet the dissidents and the latter were told that a meeting could be arranged if they wanted to meet the Prime Minister.

Singh seemed unfazed by the step taken against him and ridiculed the state leaders’ claim that the number of dissidents was decreasing and many rebels had approached them.

“These self-styled leaders are living in their own fool’s paradise and time will tell who is right,” he said, refusing to elaborate on the dissidents’ next course of action.

BJP insiders admitted that the suspension of Singh, one of the senior-most BJP leaders in the state, had aggravated the crisis in the party’s state unit.

Two days ago, the BJP state chief had suspended another rebel leader, Ramashees Rai, but failed to stop their ranks from swelling.

“They may not have sufficient numbers to split the 88-member BJP Legislature Party just now, but things can change overnight the moment the Congress supports the Samajwadi Party and Mulayam Singh Yadav shows that he can form an alternative government,” a state BJP functionary conceded.

Earlier in the day, Katiyar and senior leaders like Rajnath Singh and Kalraj Mishra had tried to approach the dissidents in a last-minute bid to win back at least some of them.

Talking to reporters before the late-evening development, Katiyar claimed to have achieved “desired progress” in his efforts to bring round the dissident legislators. “Many of those figuring in the list of dissidents have been in touch with me,” he said.

Party sources, however, said registration of a fresh criminal case against rebel leader and BJP-backed Independent Raghuraj Pratap Singh yesterday and police raids on the house of Independent MLA Dhananjay Singh had queered the pitch for BJP trouble-shooters.

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