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Bruised BJP loads Italian ammo

New Delhi, May 16: K.N. Govindacharya today became the latest to hitch his political fortunes to the “Sonia-as-foreigner-Prime-Minister” bandwagon.

The former BJP ideologue, who came crawling out of the political woodwork to reclaim his place in the national limelight, launched a Rashtriya Swabhimaan Andolan (national self-respect movement) to protest against Sonia Gandhi being made Prime Minister. “A person of foreign origin occupying the post was akin to cultural suicide,” he said.

Govindacharya’s “movement” has the RSS’ blessings. He called on the outfit’s joint general secretary, Madan Das Devi, at the Jhandewalan headquarters yesterday to seek his permission.

With Govindacharya upping the ante on the “foreigner PM” plank, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu was not to be outdone. He met NDA convener George Fernandes today and stressed on the need for the coalition to launch a similar agitation.

According to party sources, Naidu told Fernandes that he was being besieged by calls from the BJP’s newly-elected MPs and state units to “do something” to prevent Sonia from being sworn in. The NDA MPs are likely to meet tomorrow to chalk out an action plan.

Govindacharya — who made a public appearance in the capital after a long time when he addressed a news conference today — appealed to all political parties and members of the Congress-led coalition to “reconsider their decision and choose a natural-born Indian as PM”.

He said he would march to Rashtrapati Bhavan on Tuesday and present a memorandum to the President, urging him not to allow Sonia to take oath as Prime Minister.

Govindacharya said the day she takes oath of office would be observed as a “black day” and would be marked by wearing black badges and staging dharnas.

Sushma Swaraj had sounded the BJP’s anti-Sonia bugle yesterday by threatening to resign from the Rajya Sabha if she became Prime Minister, while Pramod Mahajan today said it is a “wrong” move to back her for the post “without” the people’s consent. He added that the possibility of Sonia becoming Prime Minister was “not going down well” with either political or non-political people.

Party sources believe there is more to the protest than an attempt to put the Congress, its supporting parties and the Left on the mat. “It is linked to the inner churning that has started in our party after the stunning setback in the elections,” a source said. The “churning”, the sources explained, is taking place at three levels:

A feeling that there should be an organisational overhaul to “fix” responsibilities

It is time the RSS starts calling the shots again and not allow the BJP to run the show entirely on its own

Project a new leadership.

Sources expressed “surprise” that Naidu had not even made a token offer to resign but was instead harping on “collective responsibility”.

“In 1984, when we were down to two seats, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (then BJP president) had immediately offered to resign. It was not accepted, but gradually he was eased out and Advani was brought in,” a source said.

While an immediate surgical operation is not on the cards, the sources claimed Naidu’s exit is a “matter of time” although he recently secured a three-year term as the party chief. “But if there is pressure from the top, he will have to go.”

With the other high-profile strategist, Mahajan — who oversaw the election campaign — out of favour with the RSS because of his “high-tech” style, Sushma is Jhandewalan’s “favourite”, sources said.

“They feel she is charismatic. She took on Sonia in Bellary (in the 1999 elections) and more importantly, being a woman, her offensive will have an emotive appeal,” a source said.

Govindacharya has been out in the cold since 1999 when Vajpayee was re-elected as Prime Minister. Vajpayee, who never camouflaged his dislike for Govindacharya after the mukhota controversy, ensured he was out of the BJP’s organisational structure and later the party itself. As Vajpayee consolidated his position vis-à-vis the RSS, Govindacharya found himself distanced from the outfit. Barring an occasional anti-reform statement, he was neither seen nor heard.

BJP sources said with Vajpayee down after the elections, this was an opportune moment to rehabilitate Govindacharya in the party. The organisation and national executive have to be reconstituted and a beginning could be made by first renominating him to the executive and then securing a party position for him.

Unlike in the last five years, this time, sources said, the RSS is likely to have a “greater say” in reshaping the BJP organisation. The outfit has already made it clear that its “favourites” Bal Apte (BJP vice-president) and Sanjay Joshi (general secretary, organisation) would have to be given bigger responsibilities, while a former organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, H. Dattatreya, may be shifted from Karnataka to the central BJP organisation. Dattatreya is close to Devi.

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