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Jaitley debut as Modi buffer for Sushma

Arun Jaitley , Navjot Singh Sidhu

New Delhi, March 15: Arun Jaitley will make his Lok Sabha poll debut from Amritsar, using former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu’s constituency to attempt the plunge.

The last time Jaitley had fought a direct election was in 1974 when he studied law at Delhi University. Contesting as an Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad candidate, he won and headed the university students’ union for a year.

During past elections, his name would often crop up as a contender from a seat in Delhi, Jammu or Punjab but he stayed put in the Rajya Sabha.

But the BJP’s internal dynamics have now changed, sources said. Narendra Modi will be fighting his first Lok Sabha election as potential BJP parliamentary party leader — a position occupied by Sushma Swaraj in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

Sources said Modi was keen to see Jaitley in the lower House to “balance” the scales, which he felt could otherwise tilt marginally towards the Sushma-L.K. Advani-Murli Manohar Joshi coalition.

The trio have forged an alliance against Modi because of their shared fears of being sidelined by him. Modi and Jaitley, however, have long been friends.

A statement by Jaitley today took a swipe at Sushma for kicking up dust over the re-induction of former Karnataka rebel B. Sriramulu.

Jaitley also told the BJP’s “160 Club” — hopefuls who believe Modi would be out of the running if the party fails to cross 160-170 — to perish the thought.

“Anti-incumbency and a desire for change existing on account of price rise, slowdown in economy, plight of the farmers, corruption, security-related issues and a leadership vacuum in the UPA occupy voters’ mind space,” he wrote.

“We must all entirely concentrate on these issues and the ability of a Modi-led government providing a solution to these concerns.”

He counselled Sushma, without naming her, not to allow “relatively marginal issues” to dominate the party’s political agenda.

Sources said Jaitley had made up his mind quite a while ago to have a shot at a direct election.

He and others spoke repeatedly to the sitting Amritsar MP, Sidhu, and promised him a Rajya Sabha berth if he vacated the seat. Sidhu was asked to fight from Delhi but he made it clear that it was Amritsar or nothing.

The ex-cricketer was briefly summoned to the election committee meeting this afternoon and told that Jaitley would take his place.

Sidhu later told the media: “I welcome Jaitleyji into Amritsar. He is my guru. I respect him more than my parents and I have no issues if he fights from Amritsar.”

Sidhu has had a running battle with the BJP’s Punjab ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, for a while. Last year, the BJP had asked him to pipe down after he openly attacked deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia for “not doing enough” for Amritsar’s development. Majithia is the revenue minister.

The BJP’s reading was that the Akalis would not cooperate if it re-nominated Sidhu.