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After amma angst, Sushma finds a nest

New Delhi, Feb. 20: “Chinamma” Sushma Swaraj stands tall in Telangana, at least in the eyes of BJP representatives in the about-to-be-created state.

“Chinamma” — “little mother” — was a moniker the BJP’s leader in the Lok Sabha gave herself when she spoke on Telangana in Parliament on Tuesday. The description recalls her diminutive size —Sushma is just about five feet tall — but BJP sources said she had used it to compare herself with “Sonia Amma” (Sonia Gandhi) and, by inference, accepted the Congress president’s stature as “Periamma” (big mother) in the creation of the new state.

Sushma’s numerous detractors in the BJP seized on the remark to argue she was long on Telangana and short on Seemandhra and, in that sense, had “departed” from the party line of doing a “balancing act” so that neither region would feel short-changed. They also saw it as “willingness” to be coupled with Sonia and, therefore, the Congress on Telangana.

But the good news for Sushma is that the Telangana BJP is privately hailing her as its “Mother Goddess”. “She unequivocally endorsed Telangana without bringing in Seemandhra. This is what we desired,” said a former MP of the region.

To “express our gratitude”, the MP said, the BJP would organise its first public show shortly in Hyderabad with Sushma as the “only guest of honour”. “There is no need for Rajnath Singh (the BJP president) or for (Narendra) Modi. They were not as categorical as she was,” an Andhra BJP office-bearer of Hyderabad said.

The Telangana BJP was “upset” with Modi’s frequent references to Seemandhra in a speech he made in Karnataka yesterday. A source said if Modi came to Hyderabad or Telangana right now, the BJP would be unable to mobilise even a fourth of the crowd it had when he arrived last September.

But the BJP’s “balancing act” maneouvre — on display in the Rajya Sabha today where M. Venkaiah Naidu moved several pro-Seemandhra amendments that he didn’t ultimately press for — has more to do with the power jockeying in its parliamentary wing than any attempt to redress the “regional imbalance, said sources.

With Modi ensconced as the BJP’s sole leader, Parliament is the only place where the others in the pecking order can aspire to carve a niche for themselves.

Telangana was an opportune moment for Naidu, a shadow of his former self after he ceased to be the BJP president in 2004. He was once an MLA from Andhra, tried his luck in a Lok Sabha election from Hyderabad and lost and has since been a Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka.

Naidu hails from Nellore, an upcoming city in coastal Andhra but not a hospitable turf to nurture his political aspirations. Arun Jaitley, the Rajya Sabha Opposition leader, allowed Naidu to dominate the BJP’s optics in the House even as he negotiated with the Congress to ultimately pass the Telangana bill.

Naidu and Sushma never shared a rapport although both were mentored by L.K. Advani. Advani, said sources, was equally fond of them but over the past few years had become a bit distant from Naidu.

Naidu finally spied a chance for himself when Modi arrived. With Sushma open about her distaste for the Gujarat leader, Naidu jettisoned Advani and cosied up to him. Now with Advani on the margins of the BJP, Sushma has been left to fend for herself with a few “loyal” MPs like Shahnawaz Hussain and Nishikant Dubey.