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Victory can’t seal cracks

New Delhi, Feb. 27: The BJP’s twin triumphs in Punjab and Uttarakhand have buoyed the party but done little to ease tensions in its top leadership that grew after party president Rajnath Singh removed the high-profile Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi from crucial posts.

The friction was evident even as crackers started to burst with the arrival of Rajnath at the party headquarters this morning. Ravi Shankar Prasad, who steered the BJP to power in Uttarakhand, joined in the celebrations soon after. But the man responsible for the crucial Punjab win — Jaitley — was nowhere to be seen.

This was despite L.K. Advani’s public acknowledgement of the impressive victory. “We are delighted that the BJP, which could win only three of the 23 seats it fought in Punjab in the 2002 elections, has won back its traditional urban base,” he said.

With 19 seats, the BJP has for the first time become a relevant political force in Punjab. Alliance partner Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) does not have the numbers to form the government on its own. The BJP’s participation, therefore, is not merely ornamental as before but necessary. While Rajnath chose to give the credit to the “people of Punjab”, Jaitley was acknowledged by most in the party as the architect of this performance.

The victory in Punjab puts additional pressure on Rajnath to repeat the feat in Uttar Pradesh in April.

Jaitley was not part of the bonhomie and camaraderie on display at the party headquarters — he did not even shake hands with Rajnath.

Since he was removed as BJP spokesperson, Jaitley has not stepped into the party headquarters and the media room except to attend meetings where his presence is necessary. He keeps himself occupied in his legal practice.

Despite the media and the party workers bombarding him with requests to analyse the Punjab win, he stuck to his routine today. He went to the Supreme Court in the morning, came back to his office in the afternoon and spoke to the winners and losers in Punjab. He duly called Rajnath to apprise him of the trends pouring in from Punjab and had a chat with Navjot Singh Sidhu, re-elected from the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.

But not once did Jaitley cross over to the BJP headquarters next door to his Ashoka Road bungalow.

Rajnath said the Assembly victories are a reflection of the voters’ growing disenchantment with the UPA.

“Uttarakhand was part of Uttar Pradesh. So we expect the trend to follow in UP. The credit of these victories goes to the people who voted for us and the party workers. This clearly shows that the Congress is on its way out,” he said.

At a meeting of the party’s parliamentary board in the evening, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Rajnath and Jaitley described the wins as a “milestone” and echoed Advani to say the urban vote base had returned to the BJP. They said the results were a reflection on the UPA’s handing of the economy and internal security.

No formal announcement has been made about the choice of chief minister of Uttarakhand, but sources said the board has picked Bhuvan Chandra Khanduri.

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