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House divided, BJP arms to lock horns with Cong
(Top) Vasundhara Raje, Uma Bharti: On queered pitch

New Delhi, May 17: The battle is at hand, the dress rehearsal for the war next year, but all is not well within the BJP as it prepares to take on the Congress in four states a few months from now.

Differences among state and Central leaders are queering the party’s preparations for the Assembly polls in Delhi, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh where it hopes to cash in on the anti-incumbency sentiment.

In one example of discord, Central minister Sahib Singh Verma was snubbed at a public meeting three months ago when he declared Vasundhara Raje the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in Rajasthan.

Hari Shankar Bhabhra, a state leader, demanded to know why Verma had usurped the right of the legislators to elect their leader after an election. Since then, neither Bhabhra nor any leader of consequence has participated in Vasundhara’s parivartan rally.

In Delhi, another chief ministerial prospective, Madan Lal Khurana, ploughs a lonely furrow as BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the Central “guardian”, minister Ananth Kumar, stay away from party meetings and activities.

Yet another would-be chief minister, Uma Bharti, is lurching from one controversy to another in Madhya Pradesh. Her sympathisers swear that her detractors in the party created them, and not the Congress’ Digvijay Singh, the man she is aiming to oust.

In Chhattisgarh, the BJP has still not zeroed in on a candidate weighty enough to counter the Congress’ Ajit Jogi.

Though party sources maintained that there was an anti-incumbency “wave” against the Congress in the four states going to polls in October-November, they conceded that the BJP could not cash in on it unless it puts its own house in order. “And that is still a tall order,” they said.

While Khurana is on his own in Delhi — without the support of contemporaries like V.K. Malhotra and Verma — Vasundhara and Uma have a slight advantage. Central leaders like Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh have stepped in as props.

Vasundhara’s parivartan rally, which is now criss-crossing Rajasthan, was largely the result of Mahajan’s effort, the sources said. Even the offices set up for her in various districts were courtesy Mahajan, they added.

But the fallout has been that Rajasthan’s established leadership — comprising Bhabhra, Ghanshyam Tiwari, Raghuvir Singh Kaushal and Ramdas Aggarwal — has virtually washed its hands of her campaign.

“The main cause of their anger was the Central leadership’s disregard for them when Vasundhara was made the state party chief,” the sources said. “They were kept in the dark.”

A more objective reading is that Bhabhra and company were “out of depth” with the changing complexities of state politics. So, a “fresh, new face” like Vasundhara’s was what the BJP needed to rejuvenate the Rajasthan unit, which became comatose once Bhairon Singh Shekhawat became Vice-President.

In Madhya Pradesh, veteran leader Kailash Joshi was kept out of the election committee while the high command is believed to have taken a “serious” view of the alleged manoeuvres of Central ministers Vikram Verma and Sumitra Mahajan to “sabotage” Bharti’s prospects. As in Vasundhara’s case, Mahajan and Jaitley are fighting Bharti’s battle against Digvijay, given her propensity to get embroiled in controversies.

Mahajan and Jaitley are slated to release a dossier on Digvijay’s “malgovernance” and articulate the development theme — an issue on which Bharti is reportedly not at ease.

According to the sources, Verma or Sumitra may be axed in the impending shuffle as a warning to the anti-Bharti group.

In Delhi, a section of the BJP feels that Khurana is “out of synch” with the changed demographic composition and the growing presence of voters from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The party, this section said, was toying with the idea of projecting a different candidate, like former Delhi minister and now BJP vice-president Harshavardhan.

The signs of dissidence and the need to frame a sharper strategy to take on the Congress are issues expected to be discussed at a meeting of the BJP’s Central office-bearers in Jaipur on May 25.

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