The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bhopal BJP picks Bharti as warhead

Bhopal, Jan. 18: The state BJP today chose Uma Bharti to lead the assault on the entrenched Digvijay Singh as the chief ministerial candidate. The state executive’s decision will be conveyed to the central leadership, which is meeting in Delhi on January 20 to chalk out the party’s strategy.

Bharti is widely seen as the one who could take on Diggy Raja, thanks to her backward caste origins, her oratorial skills, her inseparable link with the Hindutva forces and her role during the Ram temple agitation.

The firebrand sanyasin, who is still resisting the central leadership’s move to push her out of the Union council of ministers to focus on state elections, has already launched a no-holds-barred attack on Digvijay. Yesterday at Chattarpur, she alleged that the Ganjbasoda riots were “engineered” to give the BJP a bad name.

She promised to “gift” him a saffron robe and a kamandal as he has announced “political sanyas” if defeated in the Assembly polls. “He would have to shave off his head, too, but I will not give him a razor. The masses would take care of that,” Bharti said.

But there is no dearth of colleagues waiting with the long knife for her in the state. Former chief minister Sunderlal Patwa may have become “neutral” in the wake of his ill-health, but Union ministers Vikram Verma, Sumitra Mahajan, state BJP chief Kailash Joshi and leader of the Opposition Babulal Gaur are some of the prominent leaders who love to hate her. From their perspective, Bharti is temperamental, lacking organisation experience and unacceptable to the higher castes that have traditionally backed the BJP.

In today’s meeting, the dominant view was that Bharti must quit as Union minister of state for coal and mines to concentrate on the Assembly polls, but personally she seems against it. Bharti believes her status as a Union minister would come in handy during the campaign.

The BJP leadership is said to be toying with the idea of luring Joshi with a Delhi berth to give Bharti a free hand in state affairs. The party has already rewarded Verma with a Cabinet slot.

Despite her unwillingness to leave Delhi, Bharti has been camping in Madhya Pradesh for some time now though state elections are likely to be held in December. Regaling the crowd with her crisp one-liners yesterday, Bharti said after the defeat, the chief minister would try to “flee” but he would fall into potholes.

“He would also get hit by electric wires,” she said, pointing at the poor state of roads and electric supply.

At Ujjain, Bharti chided excited BJP workers waving their hands. “Do not show me that Italian hand. Show me Hanumanji’s fist,” she roared.

In BJP circles, a whisper campaign is on that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani would be contesting from the Bhopal Lok Sabha constituency, a seat currently held by Bharti, who is likely to move to the Barasia Assembly segment.

The idea is to motivate the cadre that apart from Bharti, Advani will be actively associated with Madhya Pradesh politics.

The BJP’s anxiety about the battle for Bhopal is not without reason: it is one state where the Congress has been ruling for the past nine years, cocking a snook at the anti-incumbency factor.

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