New Delhi, Feb. 3: The BJP’s powerful regional bosses largely dominated the recent selection of Rajya Sabha candidates, the party’s Delhi cabal failing to exercise its veto for the first time.
Since losing the 2004 general election, the BJP had been witnessing a Delhi-states tussle for supremacy in policy and decision-making. The battle seems now to have tilted clearly in favour of the satraps, some of whom have been celebrating “hat-tricks” in their states while their “rootless” central leaders have failed to haul the party back to power at the Centre.
Narendra Modi’s Gujarat expectedly set the trend, giving the three BJP tickets to candidates virtually unknown outside the state.
Sources said Modi had handpicked them keeping in mind caste and regional equations and the need to secure his flanks in the parliamentary polls.
“Unlike the dreamers in Delhi who imagine that Modi’s name is enough to get the BJP a majority, Modi has no such illusions because he knows how difficult the ground realities are,” a Gujarat MP claimed.
The nominees were Shambhuprasad Tundiya, Chuni Gohil and Lalsinh Vadodiya. Tundiya is a Dalit religious leader from Saurashtra’s Surendranagar; Gohil is from the fishermen’s community in coastal Veraval; and Vadodiya belongs to the Kshatriya caste, which dominates north and central Gujarat.
The BJP’s Delhi movers and shakers were lobbying for spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman and Prakash Javadekar, whose Rajya Sabha tenure ended this month.
Javadekar, who was elected from Maharashtra, had to make way for Republican Party president Ramdas Athawale, who has teamed up with the NDA.
But Modi sprang a surprise with his list. Gujarat’s Dalits still support the Congress; so Tundiya’s nomination is expected to signal to the community that the BJP “is second to none in nurturing their interests”, a source said.
Vadodiya’s choice, the source explained, is the “most significant” because he is the first Kshatriya leader of substance that the party has chanced upon since Shankersinh Vaghela walked out in the late ’90s.
In the last Assembly polls, the absence of a Kshatriya heavyweight cost the BJP several seats in north and central Gujarat.
In Chhattisgarh, Sushma Swaraj had pitched hard to secure the lone seat in the BJP’s quota for S.S. Ahluwalia, who had lost a previous Rajya Sabha election from his home state of Jharkhand.
Sources said Sushma had argued that the BJP needed Ahluwalia’s “aggression” to stand up to the Congress, but chief minister Raman Singh was not swayed.
He chose Ranvijay Pratap Judeo, son of the late Dilip Singh Judeo who was captured on video purportedly saying that while money was not God, it was “no less” than God.
Judeo is of royal lineage and commands the loyalty of the tribals of the Jashpur region. In the recent Assembly polls, he swung three seats for the BJP, including Pathalgaon, which the Congress had won seven times.
“We lost the tribal support in Bastar; so Jashpur and Judeo are more important than ever before to us,” a Chhattisgarh BJP source said.
In Rajasthan, the only “concession” that new chief minister Vasundhara Raje granted the central leaders was to accommodate Vijay Goel, the Delhi BJP president.
Goel had been promised a Rajya Sabha seat after rival Harshvardhan was projected as the chief ministerial candidate in the recent state polls.
One of Vasundhara’s two other choices was Narayan Panchariya, a man close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whom she wanted to humour.
Vasundhara had made up with the Sangh, with whom she had had patchy relations in the past, well before the state polls and received its full backing.
Murli Manohar Joshi was the only Delhi leader to secure a seat for a nominee — his long-time associate R.K. Sinha. But then, the Bihar BJP had raised no objections against a loyal and long-serving member who also had Sangh support.
Rajya Sabha berths are coveted in parties because of the perception that the nominees are “spared the rigours” of a Lok Sabha contest while being assured a six-year tenure (except those making it through by-elections).