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Ananth for south, suspense for govt

New Delhi, June 26: As deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu were getting misty-eyed about the Emergency on its 28th anniversary at a function at the party headquarters, eyebrows were raised at the sudden announcement that Union minister Ananth Kumar would be the new Karnataka party president.

Naidu’s statement that “eternal vigilance is the price people would have to pay for liberty” was followed by news of the appointment of Ananth Kumar and that of B.S. Yedduriappa as the Karnataka campaign committee president.

It shocked BJP members not because it was unexpected — the news that Kumar was heading for Karnataka was in the air for a long time — but because of the timing.

“Organisational elections are on and, at the most, in two months the Karnataka state council would have elected a new president. Where was the hurry'” asked a Karnataka BJP member.

The news meant that the NDA government would have yet another Cabinet shuffle —possibly before the monsoon session — since Kumar holds the urban development portfolio and Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee is waiting in the wings for a berth.

Asked if he would give up his ministry, he said: “It is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will take a decision in consultation with the deputy Prime Minister and the BJP president.”

But he hinted that he was in no hurry to leave. “I have been working for the party since 1987 and before that for the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad as a student activist. Whatever position I may have held in public life, I have been a devoted BJP member and now I will do justice to both positions.”

However, in BJP circles, it is an open secret that Atal Bihari Vajpayee wanted Kumar out since he allowed the Swadeshi Jagran Manch to run its publications division out of his official residence.

The Manch’s journal had lampooned Vajpayee three years ago, and when it became a talking point, an embarrassed Kumar was forced to nudge it out.

But he managed to survive every shuffle despite his name figuring prominently on the “hit-list” because of his reported proximity to Advani and Naidu.

BJP sources said Kumar would “eventually” have to shift to Bangalore although Karnataka goes to polls simultaneously with the general elections next year. The case of Vasundhara Raje and Uma Bharti — both relinquished their ministerships reluctantly after being appointed state party chiefs — were cited as a precedent.

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