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Sushma opposes merger, party not amused

New Delhi/ Bangalore, March 6: BJP veteran Sushma Swaraj today voiced her reservations on the return of a scam-indicted leader she was said to be once close to but sources claimed her eleventh-hour attempt to thwart the move was likely to be overruled.

Insiders said neither the RSS nor the BJP leadership was pleased that she had chosen to go public, tweeting her opposition to the merger of B.S. Sriramulu’s BSR Congress with the BJP in Karnataka.

“She is extremely dispirited because she thinks she is not getting the importance she deserves in the present order,” a source said.

Sriramulu, a close associate of Bellary’s Reddy brothers and who was among those indicted for illegal mining and export of iron ore, had broken away from the BJP to launch his outfit. Yesterday, he had announced in Karnataka that his party would shortly merge with the BJP.

In the tweet this morning, Sushma said she was “opposed” to the merger. “I am opposed to the BSR alliance or merger with BJP in Karnataka. I have conveyed to Shri Rajnath Singhji that BJP must not permit this,” she said.

Party leaders were all the more surprised with her tweet because Sushma was regarded as the “original patron” of the Reddy brothers and made it a point to attend the yearly “Varalakshmi puja” they hosted in their ancestral home in Bellary.

The brothers, whom Sushma first met when she unsuccessfully contested against Sonia Gandhi in Bellary, even referred to her as their “mother”, as did Sriramulu.

But Sushma distanced herself from them after they were indicted in a Lokayukta report on illegal mining in 2011.

“She does not want such corrupt and discredited elements back in the BJP,” a source close to Sushma said. “She thinks if we re-induct them, our anti-corruption plank flies out of the window.”

Sushma was equally against bringing back influential Lingayat leader B.S. Yeddyurappa, the BJP’s first chief minister down south, who too had to step down after being indicted by the anti-corruption ombudsman.

But the BJP brass went ahead and welcomed him “home”. The party is likely to field Yeddyurappa and his son in the Lok Sabha elections.

With Yeddyurappa back, Sriramulu’s return seemed a formality. “Just a matter of time,” senior leader and former chief minister Jagadish Shettar had said. “We would field Sriramulu in (his home turf) Bellary.”

That was before Sushma’s tweet today.

Sriramulu, a former minister in the state, had contested as an Independent in the last elections and won. Together with the Reddy barons, he ensured that the BJP was wiped clean in Hyderabad-Karnataka that borders Andhra Pradesh. The Scheduled Tribe leader commands a vote share of 3 or 4 per cent and can influence six seats in his political turf.

The BJP, which lost power to the Congress in the Assembly elections just 11 months ago, faces a tough task of retaining the 19 Lok Sabha seats it won in 2009. The state sends 28 MPs to Parliament.

Bolstered by the return of Yeddyurappa, the party is hoping to cash in on Sriramulu’s influence. A source who didn’t want to come on record summed up the mood in the local unit. “I am against such last-minute spoilers like the one we have now,” the source said, referring to Sushma’s reservations.

Former chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, however, appeared confident the problem would be sorted out. “I admit there are some confusions. But that was the case during Yeddyurappa’s re-induction too,” he said. “I’m sure this hiccup will get solved in a few days as we want to step ahead with our campaign.”

Sushma also tweeted her resentment over the entry of former Congress minister Venod Sharma into the Haryana Janhit Congress, headed by Kuldeep Bishnoi, an ally of the BJP.

“I am strongly opposed to this. I have conveyed my views to Shri Kuldeep Bishnoi. Venod Sharma set to join HJC,” she tweeted.

Venod, who was a minister at the Centre as well as in the B.S. Hooda government, was dropped when his son Manu Sharma was re-arrested in the Jessica Lal murder case.

A source close to Sushma said she was against Venod’s induction for the same reason she was opposed to the BSR Congress’s merger with the BJP. “She thinks the presence of such people will do no credit to the BJP.”

However, the larger assessment was that Sushma was fighting to reclaim her space and resist the alleged manoeuvres to out-turf her in the Narendra Modi-spearheaded dispensation.

In their own way, Sushma and L.K. Advani are still holding out against the new order.