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Gadkari forced to eat humble pie
- BJP bars Jharkhand MLAs from voting for Mishra; JMM ups the ante against ally

New Delhi, March 21: Nitin Gadkari was besmirched with egg on his face as the BJP issued a statement saying that no party MLA in Jharkhand would vote for Anshuman Mishra, a controversial Independent candidate who till this evening continued to leverage his supposed “Hindutva” links to stake claim to the Sangh fraternity’s support for his Rajya Sabha candidacy.

Although a section of the BJP got into damage-control mode and attempted to distance party president Gadkari from the perception that he initially backed Mishra, party sources emphasised that had the central command not given a go-ahead, his nomination papers would not have been signed by six of their MLAs in Ranchi.

“An impression is being sought to be created that local leaders had decided to root for Mishra without the consent of the central bosses. Is anyone expected to swallow this theory? When the BJP’s stakes are high in keeping its coalition government in Ranchi afloat, can we expect Gadkari and the others to stay aloof from a Rajya Sabha nomination?” a source asked.

The BJP statement, issued by general secretary Ananth Kumar, claimed, “In view of the large-scale horse-trading and malpractices going on for Rajya Sabha elections in Jharkhand, the BJP has further decided that its members in the Assembly will abstain from voting.”

The move was made despite the realisation that the BJP could antagonise its coalition partner, the JMM, that expects the party’s support for its nominees R.K. Agrawal and Sanjeev Kumar for the two seats from the state.

“We are running government in alliance with the BJP and Ajsu which have not put up candidates. So, we expect them to extend their support,” said JMM central organisational secretary Supriyo Bhattacharya in Ranchi

Until Tuesday morning, Gadkari his other Rajya Sabha picks, notably that of Nagpur-based businessman and confidant Ajay Sancheti, raised the BJP’s hackles thought there was “nothing amiss” in endorsing Mishra, an NRI from Gorakhpur in UP.

He argued, sources said, that Mishra’s brother, Rajiv, was a BJP member in Uttar Pradesh and had contested (and lost) the recent Assembly poll from Rampur Karkhana. “He did not see the point that while Rajiv was a dedicated worker and had held district level party posts, Anshuman had nothing to do with the BJP. He floated on the scene with the patronage of the rich and the powerful, including a spiritual guru,” a source said.

However, once senior leaders like Yashwant Sinha and Shanta Kumar questioned the Jharkhand decision at Tuesday’s weekly parliamentary party meet, he was “forced” to rethink.

Gadkari was not present at the meeting. But veteran L.K. Advani promised to intervene on behalf of Sinha and the others.

Sinha told reporters, “I said our MLAs should not be put on auction to the highest bidder.”

Shanta Kumar, a former Himachal Pradesh chief minister, quoted Vivekananda to say that once a party became obsessive about money, it courted its doom. BJP MP from Nawada, Bhola Singh remarked that the party’s “conscience was dead because it was bowing before money power”.

It is learnt that Advani asked a senior colleague to intercede on his behalf with Gadkari. He was spoken to last evening and “persuaded” to shed his intransigence over Mishra.

Sources close to the BJP president refused to react when they were approached. “The episode was blown out of proportion. Even three Congress MLAs had signed Mishra’s nomination papers. Why is the BJP being singled out for criticism?” asked an aide.

The fiasco has also uncovered other layers in the BJP’s power structure.

Sinha and Shanta Kumar’s rant against Mishra’s candidacy was prompted by a widespread realisation in the BJP that Gadkari and the others had “overlooked” the claim of old-timer S.S. Ahluwalia from Jharkhand.

Sinha, Shanta Kumar and Ahluwalia approximately belong to that generation of the BJP leaders who were squeezed between the big two, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani and the “younger” line-up (now in their early sixties) such as Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Narendra Modi and Gadkari himself. Barring their attempts to force reality checks periodically, they are forced to play second fiddle to the likes of Sushma and Jaitley.