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BJP cracks whip on Jethmalani

New Delhi, Nov. 25: The BJP today suspended Ram Jethmalani for “anti-party activities”.

Other “rebels” — notably Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha — are likely to be issued a stiff warning that if they continue to be recalcitrant, they too may have to go Jethmalani’s way.

Yashwant and Shatrughan had both publicly insisted that Nitin Gadkari step down after allegations of financial irregularities surfaced against the BJP chief.

The party’s parliamentary board, scheduled to meet tomorrow, is likely to recommend Jethmalani’s expulsion.

However, neither the suspension nor the imminent expulsion will terminate Jethmalani’s Rajya Sabha membership. Like Amar Singh, who continues to be an upper House member even after being expelled by the Samajwadi Party that had elected him, Jethmalani will continue but as an Independent member.

The decision to suspend Jethmalani, taken late this evening, was an “answer” to the lawyer’s open dare to the BJP to take action against him. Jethmalani had yesterday written to Gadkari, contesting a view jointly taken by Opposition leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley on the appointment of new CBI chief Ranjit Sinha.

Sushma and Jaitley, in a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, had alleged that Sinha was appointed in haste to “pre-empt” a recommendation of the House panel on the Lok Pal bill to set up a collegium to choose the CBI head.

In his missive to Gadkari, Jethmalani had said Sushma’s and Jaitley’s move was “instigated” by the “most undesirable rival” and commended the government for “fast-tracking” Sinha’s appointment and “averting a national calamity”.

BJP sources said the RSS and the party brass were “furious” with Jethmalani’s second offensive against the leadership in the recent past.

Recently, after Gadkari’s alleged dodgy financial deals were out in the public domain, Jethmalani had openly demanded his resignation and claimed that Yashwant, Shatrughan and Jaswant Singh were on the same page as him.

Sources said what nettled the Sangh and BJP leaders was that a bureaucratic appointment had become inextricably tied with the more complex matter of Gadkari’s alleged corruption. Sources wondered if the outbursts were a reflection of a growing inner disquiet against the BJP president whose term ends on December 19.

A section of the RSS is still keen on giving Gadkari a second tenure because of the fear that if he goes, the “Delhi cabal” of L.K. Advani, Jaitley, Sushma and Ananth Kumar could regain control over the BJP.

Curiously, the same persons who raised the CBI chief’s appointment were those who asked for Gadkari’s head. On Saturday, Shatrughan, a Lok Sabha MP, endorsed Jethmalani’s position on the CBI head and said: “An important organisation like the CBI cannot be kept headless. The appointment of its new director has been done in a fair manner.”

Regarding Gadkari, he said: “He (Gadkari) is a friend. But a person occupying a responsible post should not only be honest but should also be seen as honest.” Shatrughan was away in Patna and refused to take calls.

On November 21, Yashwant, a former finance and foreign minister and now a Lok Sabha MP, had issued a media release, saying: “Whether Gadkari is guilty or not is not the issue. Those in public life should be beyond reproach.”