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BJP hammers Jaswant, set to hug
NK Delhi grip loosens

Jaswant Singh (top), NK Singh

New Delhi, March 21: A retired colonel who defected from the Congress has replaced Jaswant Singh as the BJP candidate in Rajasthan’s Barmer, prompting suggestions of further evidence of state satraps having their way.

The BJP has declared Sona Ram Chowdhury as the candidate from the seat that Jaswant, also a former army officer, wished to retain.

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje was against Jaswant’s nomination, according to sources. But others said the choice was just a reflection of how Narendra Modi is tightening his grip. Either way, the traditional way of the Delhi ivory tower picking candidates appears to have taken a back seat this time.

At internal BJP meetings, Raje apparently told the leaders that caste criteria could not be ignored to accommodate Jaswant, a Rajput. Chowdhury, who is a Jat, stood a “far better chance” from Barmer, which falls in the Jaisalmer region on the western border, Vasundhara reportedly contended.

As the move was cloaked in caste considerations, BJP sources said, it conveyed weightier political signals. For one, they said, it almost conclusively marked the end of the supremacy the party’s oligarchs working out of their Delhi parlours enjoyed for decades over the choice of candidates. It also tipped the scales firmly on the side of the regional satraps.

The power shift, the sources said, was the result of the Delhi oligarchs steadily losing their mass base by either keeping away from electoral contests or staying aloof from the people once they won an election, principally with the help of the regional leaders.

For instance, Vasundhara, notwithstanding the pedigree she inherited by being born into Gwalior royalty, never took the Rajya Sabha route to make a political cut.

For another, it took forward the process of power transition from the hands of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-L.K. Advani epoch to a generation represented by a regional leader, Narendra Modi, in this case, and not his Delhi peers, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj or Rajnath Singh. The satraps are mostly in their late fifties and early sixties.

On Thursday, Jaswant, 76, had threatened to fight as an Independent if he did not get a ticket. Today, he refused to take calls from journalists. Asked what Jaswant’s plans were, his son, Manvendra, who was elected as an MLA from Rajasthan’s Sheo, said: “I cannot say anything.”

Yesterday, a motley group of Rajput outfits had come out in his support in Jaipur.

Jaswant’s equations with Modi were never good. In 2009, Modi had demanded Jaswant’s expulsion when his book on Jinnah was launched. It took a rounded view of the founder of Pakistan. Jaswant was thrown out.

In 2011, Advani insisted that Jaswant must be brought back, to which the RSS reluctantly agreed. But Jaswant, who was one of Vajpayee’s most trusted ministers, never regained his clout. Indeed, as Advani’s standing diminished, Jaswant found himself relegated to the margins.

When in the 2013 Rajasthan polls, Manvendra got a ticket, it was believed that Jaswant had “made peace” with Raje. He was far more comfortable with the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat.

If Modi manoeuvred Advani’s re-nomination from Gandhinagar, against his express wishes, trouble appears to be brewing for Harin Pathak, an Advani loyalist in Gujarat. Sources said Pathak, a seven-time MP from Ahmedabad East, was “most unlikely” to make the cut.