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Atal niece rips into Modi

- Karuna joins Cong, says a faction has captured BJP
Karuna Shukla joins the Congress in New Delhi on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi, Feb. 27: Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s niece Karuna Shukla today joined the Congress, alleging that a BJP faction’s stranglehold on her old party had become intolerable.

The Congress lined up senior leaders to welcome her into the party with great fanfare.

General secretary Janardan Dwivedi said Shukla’s decision carried great symbolic value as she had left the BJP because of the cultural degeneration in the party after Vajpayee’s exit. Former Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi described Shukla’s entry into the Congress as a political milestone.

Virtually all senior Congress leaders from Shukla’s home state of Chhattisgarh were present, as were veterans such as Motilal Vora and the general secretary in charge of party affairs in the state, B.K. Hariprasad.

Shukla, who was a national vice-president with the BJP before she quit last October, met Sonia Gandhi and Rahul before the formal news conference, where she straightaway launched into an attack on Narendra Modi.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Narendra Modi

She declared that the people of India would never hand the responsibility of governing the nation to Modi.

“The BJP has made a person who could not uphold the dharma of a husband or the dharma of raj (governance) its prime ministerial candidate. How can he uphold the dharma of the rashtra (the nation)?” Shukla asked.

Her remarks betrayed her bitterness with the BJP.

“Today is Shivaratri and I wish you all on this day. With the blessings of Lord Shiva, we hope the 2014 elections will harbinger the end of the communal forces,” she said.

“I was in the BJP for the past 32 years but the decline I saw after Vajpayee’s illness was very painful. One faction has captured the party. Tolerating what was going on for the last seven-eight years had become impossible.”

Shukla is the daughter of Vajpayee’s late brother Suda, who ran a book-publishing firm in Gwalior. The former Prime Minister is the youngest of eight siblings.

After illness ended Vajpayee’s political life and confined him to his home, L.K. Advani was projected as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009. Now the mantle has been passed to Modi.

“The BJP was like a home for me. I am now entering a new home because the Atal era has ended in the BJP and a new culture has grown since then. This is not my pain alone; an infinite number of BJP workers suffer this pain.”

Vajpayee was extremely fond of Shukla, who is among his three close relatives in politics. The other two are nephews Anoop Mishra and and Deepak Vajpayee. In the 2004 elections, he had campaigned for Shukla who was pitted against Charandas Mahant, now the Chhattisgarh Congress chief. Mahant, who had lost to her, was at the Congress office to greet Shukla today.

Asked about Advani, she said: “You all know what his plight is.”

To a question about Rahul’s ability to stop Modi, she said: “Both have their own personalities and politics. I don’t believe in such comparisons. But the Congress has a glorious history and the people know about its contributions.”

She added: “No matter how strong a wave they have created, the weather changes in minutes. The people of this country will never trust the communal elements and will vote for the Congress again in 2014.”

Shukla appeared willing to continue her attack on the BJP but the Congress leaders thought this was good enough for the day and ended the news conference somewhat abruptly. Shukla, though, promised to tell the country more about the “dynasty culture in the BJP”.