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Uma tantrum after tug-of-war in party

Bhopal, Oct. 14: Pre-poll squabbles are playing out full steam in the Madhya Pradesh BJP despite the RSS keeping a close watch.

A row has broken out over the formation of the party’s state election committee, which will steer the run for power in the December Assembly polls, with prospective chief minister candidate Uma Bharti objecting to several nominees.

Bharti was so upset at one point that she chose not to attend a meeting called to discuss the list of names for the committee, prompting the intervention of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu.

The pre-election blues are far from over and the scene of action has now shifted to Delhi. Bharti is insisting on non-inclusion of several Union ministers from the state in the election committee on the ground that such a composition would give the Malwa region an edge.

The ministers, including Vikram Verma and Sumitra Mahajan, are refusing to sit out, pointing at their stature and long standing in the party. Verma was the leader of Opposition in the previous Assembly while Sumitra has won the Indore Lok Sabha seat on seven occasions.

Citing regional balance, Bharti has proposed inclusion of Ravinandan Singh (Vindhya) Jaishri Banerjee (Mahakaushal) and Laxminarayan Sharma (Bhopal) but Verma opposed it, saying the committee should not have more than 15 members.

The RSS had seized on the factionalism and promotion of relatives by some senior leaders to serve notice on the BJP that the Sangh would be compelled to seize the election reins if matters do not improve.

The intense power struggle told on a BJP meeting in Bhopal. First, it got delayed for several hours due to the late arrival of Bharti and began at 4 pm instead of 11 am.

When the meeting finally began, the factions kept sniping at each other. Verma mocked BJP national general secretary Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s suggestion that seats of some sitting MLAs should be changed. Chauhan is considered to be close to Bharti.

Verma said that since the MLAs had put in a lot of “hard work”, they should not be “disturbed”. Another Union minister Prahlad Patel sided with Chauhan, wondering why Verma did not think of this aspect when he shifted from Seewni to the Balaghat Lok Sabha seat.

Bharti later lamented that senior BJP leaders were “leaking” in-house proceedings to the media at the cost of the party. Bharti said that before she came to the meeting, she was “told by mediapersons” that she was angry. “Now I get to know about my anger through media.”

The tussle has another dimension. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is set to kick off the BJP’s campaign on October 19 from Bhopal where he is scheduled to address a convention on women’s empowerment.

BJP leaders are worried that if senior leaders continue to sulk, the infighting could hamper crowd mobilisation. The BJP has already been under pressure as the Congress had managed a big turnout despite incessant rains when Sonia Gandhi had addressed a similar convention in Indore recently.

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