The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Agony of Rajnath & Rahul
Knives out for BJP chief who ‘lost badly’

New Delhi, May 11: Uttar Pradesh has delivered a verdict worse than Rajnath Singh’s worst-case scenario.

As the BJP suffered its biggest electoral setback in Uttar Pradesh in the last two decades, the beleaguered party president braced for a renewed attack on his political authority.

“We have lost… and lost very badly. It was totally unexpected and shocking,” said a crestfallen Rajnath after a late-evening meeting of the central parliamentary board, the party’s highest decision-making body.

Coming as it did after the BJP did exceptionally well in Punjab under the overall supervision of Rajnath’s rival for the top post, Arun Jaitley, and successive good performances in the Uttarakhand Assembly and the Delhi municipal polls where again Jaitley was in charge, the Uttar Pradesh results translate into a politically traumatic spell for the BJP president.

The state was crucial for the BJP without Rajnath’s added misfortune of being directly in charge. The fact that he made all the crucial decisions, right from the projection of Kalyan Singh as the chief minister candidate to distribution of seats to campaign strategy, means that the blame for defeat, too, would be laid at his doorstep.

Except in 1984 when the BJP got swept away by the sympathy wave for the Congress in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, the party has never done so badly in Uttar Pradesh.

With the exception of Lalji Tandon, most of the senior state leaders, including state party president Kesri Nath Tripathi, lost.

Already, there were signs of disenchantment with Rajnath’s leadership in the party. The decision to give tickets to all sitting MLAs had drawn scathing criticism.

“Over 40 per cent of even the BSP’s sitting MLAs have lost. What hope did we have' We should have thought about the anti-incumbency against individual MLAs,” said a senior leader.

While the “elders” — Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani — maintained a grave silence, others were not so discreet. Some like Murli Manohar Joshi opened fire even before Rajnath had time to recover.

“Our election management totally failed. There was no clear strategy,” said Joshi, who hails from Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh. “There is need to review electoral management and strategy at the national level.”

The unanimous view in the party was that the BJP failed to project itself as an alternative to the Samajwadi Party because of the party’s covert proximity to Mulayam Singh Yadav.

“Everyone in Uttar Pradesh knows about the BJP’s role in the formation of the Samajwadi Party government. As if to erase any doubts, we persisted with Kesri Nath Tripathi as Speaker for a long time after the Samajwadi Party had taken over. This meant that the entire anti-government sentiment went in favour of Mayavati,” another senior leader said.

The despondency on Rajnath’s face was matched only by the glee with which the Uttar Pradesh results were received in other quarters.

A senior leader was cheerful enough to crack jokes and poke fun at the BJP’s misfortune. “So what if all our senior leaders have lost' At least Lalji Tandon has won,” he mocked.

Some were condescending and openly laughed at Rajnath. “In the sixties, the Jana Sangh was expected to do well in municipal polls. But the results were completely contrary to Atal and Advani’s expectations. So they both went to see a film at Delite cinema. And guess what the film was – Phir Subah Hogi (There will be a new dawn). Maybe there is hope for us yet,” said a senior leader.

Maybe Rajnath should watch Ta Ra Rum Pum, which celebrates perseverance in the face of adversity.

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