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BJP quiet vote flip

New Delhi, March 30: Nitin Gadkari and Arun Jaitley last night quietly reversed the BJP apex body’s decision on the Jharkhand Rajya Sabha polls, keeping even a senior leader like Sushma Swaraj in the dark, sources said.

The BJP parliamentary board, which includes the likes of L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, had asked the party’s Jharkhand MLAs to abstain from voting even though ruling ally Jharkhand Mukti Morcha had a candidate in the fray.

The decision had been prompted by fears of money power vitiating the polls, which had already led the party to distance itself from would-be candidate Anshuman Mishra, a businessman initially believed to be enjoying BJP president Gadkari’s support.

But Gadkari and Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Jaitley, who work as a team nowadays, decided that the party must support Morcha nominee Sanjeev Kumar in the “interest” of preserving the coalition government in Ranchi.

“More so because he is an ordinary, small-time lawyer with no means to influence voters,” a source said.

Also, the sources said, the move had helped defeat the Independent candidates, widely seen as “moneybags” who would try to buy votes, and had established the primacy of political candidates, at least for now.

They said Swaraj, the Lok Sabha Opposition leader who had insisted the BJP must sit out the vote to salvage its credibility after the Anshuman Mishra fiasco, was not informed of the change. She could not be contacted for a response.

Even some Jharkhand MPs had felt that a decision taken by the parliamentary board could not be altered without a consensus. However, a source close to Gadkari claimed there was “complete unanimity”.

Even this morning, Sushma said the BJP members would not vote. So did party general secretary Ananth Kumar. But sources claimed Kumar knew of the revised decision but had been told to keep it a secret.

The only one Gadkari appeared to have taken into confidence was Jharkhand’s BJP chief minister, Arjun Munda.

This morning, Munda shepherded his 18 MLAs to a “safe house” before voting began. They were plied with “soup and tea” but were said to be clueless about what they were expected to do. Gadkari and Jaitley were in constant touch with Munda.

Deputy chief minister Hemant Soren of the Morcha, who had flooded Gadkari with phone calls yesterday, was told he could expect the BJP’s support on one condition: its MLAs would cast only single-preference votes for the Morcha nominee and not exercise their second preference. When Munda was convinced that at least 15 of the 18 Morcha members had voted for Kumar and refrained from exercising their second preference, he waved the green flag for his own legislators.

“Had we abstained, there was a good chance that one of the Independents (both are businessmen) would have made it,” a source said.

But the episode has underscored the fault lines in the central BJP. That Sushma’s views were ignored is of a piece with Gadkari’s efforts to sideline her.