The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP GeNext jostles for top spot

New Delhi, Nov. 30: The outcome of the Assembly polls may have little or no impact on the fortunes of the BJP’s Big Two — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani — but it could unsettle equations in the second rung of the party hierarchy, according to sources.

While due note was taken of the reports that the response to the meetings addressed by the Prime Minister and his deputy was largely “indifferent”, sources said this was “no reflection” of their popularity or the Centre’s performance.

“These are Assembly elections and, in the ultimate analysis, voters relate to state leaders and issues,” a source said. This, despite Vajpayee speaking at 14 meetings and Advani at 52.

The situation, however, is not so simple at the second rung. Murmurs are already audible on how the “person in the hot seat” is party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu. With organisational polls due to conclude in December, he will have to seek re-election for a full three-year term as he was brought in mid-stream.

The general feeling is if the BJP wins even one of the four states going to polls tomorrow, Naidu could still salvage his position. If not, he could be the fall guy.

The polls have also seen two key GeNext leaders — Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley — jostling for space at the top. Mahajan was asked to be the overall election in-charge but given special responsibility of Rajasthan, where his political ward, Vasundhara Raje, has been projected as chief minister.

Jaitley was given charge of Madhya Pradesh, now considered by BJP insiders as “already won”.

A Madhya Pradesh win, sources said, will place the Union law minister in the league of the party’s “lucky mascots”. Jaitley had played a key role in Gujarat, batted for chief minister Narendra Modi undeterred by the Opposition’s attack and shared the honours with him when the BJP swept the polls.

As chief minister nominee Uma Bharti’s key strategist in the state, Jaitley has been instrumental in deflecting her campaign’s focus from Bhojshala and cow slaughter to development.

In the process, Congress’ chief minister Digvijay Singh, who apparently had the upper hand on Hindutva, was put on the backfoot over power, roads and water. “At times, it looked like a Digvijay versus Jaitley contest. In any case, Jaitley would have shattered Digvijay’s aura of invincibility,” a source claimed.

BJP general secretary Mahajan, who has kept out of Madhya Pradesh, came into prominence after the party won the Maharashtra polls in 1995, courtesy the Shiv Sena alliance he crafted. He was in the doldrums after his departure from the cabinet some months ago.

Sources said a Rajasthan win is “crucial” for Mahajan to get back into the party’s mainstream and ensure he is not edged out by the Naidu-Jaitley duo. That the stakes are high for both Jaitley and Mahajan is evident from the 58 meetings the former has addressed and the latter’s 62.

Mahajan had intervened in Chhattisgarh at the beginning, but it was Jaitley who was tasked to craft a response to the Dilip Singh Judeo cash-on-disc controversy. He tried to turn the tables on the Congress with the allegation that chief minister Ajit Jogi and his son had planned the sting operation.

The jockeying within GeNext has seen a corresponding marginalisation of the veterans in the state polls.

In Madhya Pradesh, the old guard of Kushabhau Thakre, Kailash Joshi, Sumitra Mahajan and Laxmi Narayan Pandey watched the Digvijay-Bharti slugfest from the spectators’ seats and also the emergence of a new order that included Union ministers Prahlad Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste.

In Chhattisgarh, Raman Singh, Ramesh Bais and Lakhiram Aggarwal went virtually unnoticed as the central leaders rose as one to defend the “scam-tainted” Judeo, the state leaders’ bete noire.

In Rajasthan, too, it was Mahajan’s backroom boys who managed Vasundhara’s show as veterans Ramdas Aggarwal, Hari Shankar Bhabra, Lalit Chaturvedi and Ghanshyam Tiwari were either sidestepped or fought their own electoral battles.

Only Delhi saw the old guard in action. But, BJP sources said, if Madan Lal Khurana is pipped to the post by Sheila Dikshit, it will be the end of the road for him and his contemporaries.

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