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Everybody loves a slugfest on Modi
In BJP, many points to prove

New Delhi, Feb.18: If the text is Jaitley, the context is Modi.

The BJP today rallied around Narendra Modi after Arun Jaitley and Justice Markandey Katju traded punches on an article the Press Council chief wrote about the Gujarat chief minister.

Given Modi’s emerging pre-eminence, sources conceded that in the Jaitley-Katju slugfest, the context “overwhelmed” the text.

BJP sources said had the object of Katju’s criticism, been another party chief minister or leader, it was “unlikely” that they would have orchestrated a harmonious chorus of condemnation.

Jaitley’s defence of Modi was explained as a corollary of his “abiding” friendship with the Gujarat chief minister, though references to the governments in Bengal and Bihar have fuelled other theories.

The other prominent and audible voices on TV and outside rose because of an “agenda”, the sources said.

This morning, Yashwant Sinha, the former finance and foreign minister, accused Katju of “crossing the red lines repeatedly” and of “not using the language befitting a former judge”. Sinha said there was “no point” in asking for his resignation.

“He should be dismissed immediately,” Sinha said, adding that “Katju is not going to determine who will be the PM of this country”.

In his article in The Hindu newspaper on February 15, Katju cited Modi’s alleged involvement in the 2002 riots and his development model tilted in favour of big industrial houses as reasons why he should not be considered as a prospective Prime Minister.

While BJP sources welcomed Sinha’s comments, they said his alacrity emanated from the “pro-activism” he had displayed when Nitin Gadkari was upstaged as the BJP president. Sinha was among the few leaders who loudly declared that Gadkari should not be given a second term after Gadkari was sucked into a financial controversy.

Sources said the RSS, Gadkari’s principal mentor, was “furious” with Sinha for doing in its protégé and suspected he worked on behalf of L.K. Advani.

Sinha, a lateral BJP entrant, came in the late 1990s from the Samajwadi Janata Party as a chip of the socialist block. He ingratiated himself with the Sangh to rise in the party. Sources said he has since fallen on its wrong side and was now trying to play up to Modi to recover his place under the “parivar” sun.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, the BJP’s in-house pollster, texted to say that Katju had “flouted” the prescriptive norms laid down by the Press Council for the “fair, truthful and accurate” conduct of its mandate as the media’s friend, philosopher and guide of sorts.

Rao is on the periphery of Modi’s enlarging circle of “well-wishers”. Sources said he hoped to find a place in new BJP president Rajnath Singh’s team.

This afternoon, spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Katju was at liberty to voice his views, wave flags and participate in Jantar Mantar sit-ins, but after forfeiting the quasi-judicial office he has been holding.

Rudy, a national secretary, is also keeping his fingers crossed in anticipation of a promotion as a general secretary in Rajnath’s team. The Bihar slot at this level of the party hierarchy — that comes second after the president’s post—will fall vacant after Ravi Shankar Prasad’s appointment as the Rajya Sabha deputy chairperson.

But it wasn’t as though Jaitley’s defence of Modi was bereft of a larger political purpose. Tucked away in the straight-from-the-hip sentences in his article were hints that the presence of Bihar and Bengal as examples of Katju’s “bias” weren’t that innocuous and could be a way of keeping prospective lines of communication open.

Jaitley had alleged that Katju had picked on the Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee dispensations as his “selective” targets. “His attacks on non-Congress governments whether in West Bengal, Bihar or Gujarat seem more in the nature of thanks-giving to those who provided him with a post-retirement job,” he wrote.

Asked by some journalists if the assemblage was deliberate, Jaitley laughed away the insinuation. However, he is still one of the few, if not the only one in the BJP, who is as comfortable with Nitish as he is with Modi. As for Mamata, nobody in the BJP rejected the idea that she could be a future ally, despite their collective recollection of the trying times she put Atal Bihari Vajpayee through as an NDA partner.

From the BJP’s standpoint, the addition of Katju to the “pantheon” of “Modi-baiters” was a “happy sign”, a party source said.

Asked why, the source replied: “Modi needs a counterpoint for every point he makes. And who better to make the counters than the liberals, Lefties and pro-Congresswallahs? We will clump them loosely because they are all hung up on two things, 2002 and Modi’s so-called anti-liberalism. For us, both have outlived their negatives. Katju’s contention that Modi’s development model is pro-big industry doesn’t wash with the aspirational classes who desperately want the UPA’s policy paralysis to end.”

A senior leader read positive signs in Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind general secretary Maulana Mehmood Madani’s statement during an interview on Sunday. Madani, who controls part of Deoband, had said Gujarat’s Muslims were “economically better off” than Muslims in states ruled by a “secular” government.

Madani told this correspondent that his comments were not to be construed as an “endorsement” of the Gujarat chief minister.