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Joshi confronts Rajnath on Varanasi tussle

Murli Manohar Joshi, Sushma Swaraj

New Delhi, March 8: BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi asked Rajnath Singh why the party had “allowed” the “propaganda” pitching for Narenda Modi’s candidature from Varanasi to go “unchecked”.

In a meeting of the central election committee, also attended by Modi, the sitting MP from Varanasi demanded an explanation from the BJP president for “allowing the speculation to gain currency and not doing anything to check it”.

Sources said Rajnath brushed aside Joshi’s objections and carried on with the meeting’s agenda.

Asked about the brewing controversy over Varanasi, Rajnath told The Telegraph: “Truth to be told, Uttar Pradesh didn’t figure in today’s discussions even in passing.”

In Varanasi, a poster war is being fought between supporters of Joshi and Modi.

Joshi was angry that Rajnath would not convey directly to him that his services were no longer required in Varanasi and that he shift to another constituency, sources said.

The Varanasi MP wasn’t the only source of trouble in the election committee meeting.

Lok Sabha Opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, backed by her mentor L.K. Advani, re-stated her objections to the merger of the BSR Congress with the BJP in Karnataka and counselled Rajnath to abandon the move.

The BJP has put on hold the announcement of candidates from three constituencies in Karnataka. This includes Bellary that the BSR Congress chief, B.S. Sriramulu, is keen on.

The party today released a list of some candidates for Assam, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Tripura and Bengal.

Former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa — who recently returned to the BJP — will contest from Shimoga, his bastion.

Newspaper proprietor Chandan Mitra has been fielded from Hooghly although he is a Rajya Sabha MP from Madhya Pradesh.

General secretary Ananth Kumar will contest again from Bangalore South that he has won five times in a row. This time, he will be pitted against UIDAI chief and Infosys co-founder, Nandan Nilekani, of the Congress.

The BJP made it clear it will not have a truce with the MNS in Maharashtra and will stick to its old ally, the Shiv Sena.

“It is no, no, no to the MNS from our side,” stressed general secretary and Maharashtra in-charge, Rajiv Pratap Rudy.

Nitin Gadkari, the former BJP president, recently dallied with Raj Thackeray, suggesting that the MNS chief should make up with his cousin and Sena president, Uddhav Thackeray, and fight as part of the BJP-Sena coalition to ensure that the anti-Congress-NCP votes are not split.

Raj was non-committal but Uddhav protested Gadkari’s overtures and insinuated that he had let his alleged commercial instincts take the better of the BJP’s political sense and wisdom.

The party clarified that Gadkari’s meeting with Raj was a personal call and the BJP had nothing to do with it.

However, more than the concern about upsetting the Sena, BJP sources emphasised even a dalliance with the MNS would anger their party units in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The MNS’s “anti-north Indian migrants” campaign had consolidated the Hindi-speaking votes in Maharashtra’s cities behind the Congress and the NCP.

The BJP fears even a tacit understanding with Raj could upset its applecart in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.