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BJP homes in on Rajnath

New Delhi, Dec. 23: It now seems more or less certain Rajnath Singh will be the next BJP president once Lal Krishna Advani demits office at the end of the month.

BJP sources said the leadership apparently reached a consensus on his name at a meeting today at the residence of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Advani, Jaswant Singh and M. Venkaiah Naidu were also present. Earlier in the day, RSS general secretary, Mohanrao Bhagwat, met Vajpayee over lunch.

There was a series of meetings between BJP and RSS leaders. Naidu and Arun Jaitley met K.S. Sudarshan, Bhagwat and Suresh Soni at the Delhi headquarters of the Sangh.

The confabulations were aimed at reaching some kind of unanimity on who Advani’s successor would be before the national conclave started in Mumbai next week.

Although Advani and Jaswant were reportedly keen on Naidu taking over because that would have ensured Advani’s control on the party by proxy, Vajpayee declined to endorse his name.

So also the Sangh whose leaders wondered what “great purpose” they would achieve by pressing for Advani’s exit if his own “handpicked” nominee was installed as successor.

More than the objections raised by Sangh head Sudarshan to Naidu’s anointment, it was the reservations expressed by Vajpayee that more or less put him out of the reckoning.

The former Prime Minister never forgave Naidu for his “loh purush (Advani), vikas purush (Vajpayee)” statement.

For the record, Naidu told journalists he had “turned down” the offer after a “consensus” was reached on his name and “advised” the leadership to pick a leader from the “second rung”.

There was discomfiture in the BJP over allegations that Naidu’s family members were absconding after the IT authorities sought them out for a Rs 22-crore tax evasion. Rajnath’s choice was reportedly arrived at through a process of elimination. The Sangh is believed to have made it clear that its candidate was either Murli Manohar Joshi or Rajnath.

The five-day Mumbai BJP gathering, being organised by Pramod Mahajan for an allegedly extravagant sum, revived memories of the “five-star culture” the general secretary is supposed to subscribe to and put him out of the race.

The additional factors in Rajnath’s favour are:

• He is relatively non-controversial. His peers’ only view is that he is an “intellectual lightweight”. However, Rajnath may be up against counter-lobbying by Uttar Pradesh leaders such as Kalyan Singh.

• He is from the heartland. With Uttar Pradesh elections a little over a year away, the RSS and BJP felt a leader from the state was the only way of reviving the party’s fortunes.

• Cadre connectivity. Rajnath has been strong organisationally and proved his hand at winning elections in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.

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