Lucknow, March 10: The BJP appears to have cleared the decks to field Rajnath Singh from Lucknow by placating veteran leader Lalji Tandon with the offer of a Rajya Sabha ticket.
The 78-year-old sitting MP, who had belligerently said yesterday he would vacate his seat for Narendra Modi but not Rajnath, today sounded mellow as he agreed to make way for the BJP national president.
Tandon denied there was a rift between him and Rajnath. He said he had always had “cordial relations with the party president and the insinuation that I have a rift with him is far from the truth”.
Sources said Amit Shah, the BJP general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, called Tandon from Delhi this morning and asked him if it would be okay for him to be in the Rajya Sabha.
Shah told him that given his age and health, contesting a parliamentary seat could prove strenuous, so the party wished to see him in the Rajya Sabha.
Sources said Rajnath had asked Shah to update the veteran leader on the party’s emphasis on fielding young candidates for the general election.
Tandon, who started off in the sixties as a corporator in Lucknow municipality, said he first got to know about Rajnath contesting from Lucknow from the media as “ nobody had approached him on this”.
He was a minister in the Kalyan Singh government in the early nineties. In 1996, he was appointed urban development minister in Mayawati’s BSP-BJP alliance regime.
In 2004, he made headlines after 20 people were killed in a stampede at a programme on his birthday when he was distributing saris. In 2009, he won Lucknow by cashing in on the goodwill enjoyed by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of whom he was a close aide.
Tandon told some newsmen yesterday: “I reiterate that even before Modi was made the party’s PM candidate, I had said that I was ready to vacate my seat for Modi. I continue to hold on to that commitment.
“Since no one has approached me for any other candidate, I am in Lucknow and the party should now take a decision on who will contest from here.”
When reporters persisted with their questions, he said: “When I haven’t spoken to anyone and no one has spoken to me, what can I say?”
He said his first stint as Lucknow MP from 2009 had been satisfying. “I have served Lucknow so far and would continue to do so till my death. People here are happy. I am not going anywhere.”
Many in the Uttar Pradesh BJP feel Tandon deserved better as he had worked hard for Lucknow after taking over from Vajpayee, seeing infrastructure projects conceived by the NDA through to completion.
Besides, like Vajpayee, he had a following among a section of Shia Muslims in old Lucknow, they said.
Sources said many national leaders had been hesitant to ask the respected leader not to contest the Lok Sabha poll but had to bow to the wishes of the BJP central leadership.