Patna, March 22: Senior BJP leader Lalmuni Chaubey (71) today decided to quit the party and fight as an Independent from Buxar, a decision that could have an echo in Varanasi.
Though the four-term MP, seen as the party’s Brahmin face, is unlikely to win, analysts say he could cut into enough votes to upset BJP’s official nominee Ashwini Kumar Choubey’s chances.
“Lalmuni quitting the BJP is bigger news than N.K. Singh quitting the JD(U). Voters in the hinterland hardly know N.K. Singh, but Lalmuni has been rooted to the soil,” said a BJP leader in Buxar. “Lalmuni might evoke the sympathy of Brahmin voters after getting the cold shoulder from the emerging brigade in the party.”
Another party insider said: “The party should not have antagonised one of its key Brahmin faces in Buxar when its prime ministerial candidate is trying his luck in the neighbouring Brahmin-dominated seat.”
Geographically, Buxar and Varanasi are divided between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency begins where Buxar ends. Both have several things in common, like popular traditions, lifestyle and voting behaviour.
Settled along the banks of the river Ganga, traditional Kanyakubja and Saryupareen Brahmins dominate both seats. Both are holy places, Varanasi the seat of Lord Shiv and Buxar famous for its Naulakha and Ram Janki temples.
The decision by Lalmuni — who registered his first victory from Buxar Lok Sabha seat in 1996 and represented it consecutively till 2009 when he lost to RJD’s Jagadanand Singh by just over 2,000 votes — is being seen as a big blow to the BJP ahead of the polls. Asked why he decided to rebel against a party he nurtured his entire life, Lalmuni told The Telegraph: “I am unable to figure out the criteria it has adopted to choose candidates. Why have they (BJP) chosen a rank outsider (Ashwini) for a seat that has been my karmabhoomi my entire life?”
Lalmuni — known for his proximity to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and party patriarch L.K. Advani — has also represented a Buxar Assembly segment for four terms.
Making his debut in the Bihar Assembly in 1973 on a Jan Sangh (the BJP’s earlier incarnation) ticket, he was health minister in the Janata Party government led by Karpoori Thakur in 1977.
Party old-timers see the denial of ticket to Lalmuni as an “insult” to the Vajpayee-Advani era and traditions. It is an open secret in the party that Vajpayee had personally “intervened” to ensure Lalmuni got a ticket in 2004 and 2009 against the wishes of a section of leaders trying to replace the “old order”.
Lalmuni minced no words in “exposing” his detractors within the party. “Some so-called senior leaders (read Narendra Modi and Sushil Modi) are hell-bent on stopping the BJP from achieving the magic figure of 272. They are working in a dictatorial manner against what the BJP and Sangh stand for,” he said. “The party has denied ticket to Jaswant Singh — a leader of proven integrity and records. It is a nasty trend. The new leaders (read Modi and his company) are in a hurry to build their base on the ruins of those who laid the foundation of the party. I am not going to tolerate it,” he said, adding: “I have decided to enter the poll fray just to apprise the people on how some leaders have strayed from the party’s original path.” Lalmuni is expected to formally announce his decision to join the poll fray tomorrow.
Poll-watchers in Buxar believe Lalmuni’s presence as an Independent would make it easy for either the RJD or the JD(U). Lalu’s RJD is believed to have a formidable candidate in Jagadanand, who had wrested the seat from the BJP when there was a wave in favour of the NDA in Bihar in 2009.