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Second rung scuttles Uma comeback

Nov. 26: The “collective leadership” in the BJP outwitted the fiery Uma Bharti today by installing its favourite Shivraj Singh Chauhan in the Madhya Pradesh chief minister’s office.

Uma’s aggressive campaign to recapture her post from Babulal Gaur collapsed in the face of stiff opposition from all the second-rung leaders in the party. She will be accommodated at the “national level” as a general secretary in a thinly-veiled placatory gesture.

The decision was taken in an evening meeting of the BJP’s parliamentary board at former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s residence.

The party general secretary in charge of Madhya Pradesh, Arun Jaitley, emerged from the meeting, which lasted almost two hours, to announce that Gaur had resigned and the BJP had decided to install Chauhan as the next chief minister.

“Madhya Pradesh chief minister Babulal Gaur has sent his resignation to BJP president L.K. Advani. The party’s parliamentary board met this evening to discuss the situation following his resignation. We have decided on Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Uma Bharti’s services would be utilised at the national level. The party has appointed her as a general secretary,” Jaitley said.

The board had held one round of discussions on Gaur’s successor in the morning. The first meeting, which lasted over 90 minutes, remained inconclusive amid reports that senior leaders such as Vajpayee, Advani and Jaswant Singh felt central observers should be sent to the state to choose a chief minister after consultations with legislators.

BJP sources said it was suggested that Jaitley, Jaswant and Sanjay Joshi should go to Bhopal as observers, followed by a meeting of the legislature party to elect a leader.

Uma was reportedly insisting on Jaswant being made an observer because she believed that all the second-rung leaders were opposed to her re-election as chief minister.

Sources said in Bhopal that the RSS’s K.S. Sudarshan and Suresh Soni also backed the anti-Uma group.

Jaswant left the parliamentary board meeting in the evening earlier than the rest, fuelling speculation that he may not be in favour of projecting Chauhan as chief minister.

Jaswant is among the handful of leaders in the BJP who supported Uma in her campaign to get her post back.

Uma had to give up her post in August last year after a Karnataka court issued a non-bailable arrest warrant against her.

The resultant uproar forced her to resign eight months after she led the BJP to a spectacular victory in the state. She had a say in the appointment of Gaur, who has no mass base, as her successor but he subsequently turned against her. Uma blames the RSS for Gaur’s turnaround.

The appointment of Chauhan is unlikely to end the BJP’s problems in Madhya Pradesh. Though she declined to comment, an angry Uma is bound to escalate the turf war in the state.

Sources close to the sadhvi claimed tonight that the almost tearful leader has not made up her mind on accepting the consolation post of general secretary.

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