|Jaswant Singh fights back tears while speaking to reporters at his farmhouse in Jodhpur on Saturday. (PTI picture)
New Delhi, March 22: Just when the BJP thought it was swimming along nicely, the party has hit multiple air pockets.
Jaswant Singh, denied a ticket in Rajasthan’s Barmer, almost broke down today and served a separation notice by saying that the BJP’s reins are in the hands of a “duplicate” faction -- a clear reference to the Narendra Modi camp.
“The BJP is now divided into two factions, one which is the real BJP and the other a fake; or to put it better ---- original and duplicate,” Jaswant said in Jodhpur. “But unfortunately, the duplicate part now holds the reins of the party.”
Sushma Swaraj, whose recent tweet on corruption had pinpricked the party, weighed in from Bhopal, expressing “personal pain” at Jaswant’s plight. The BJP seized on the “personal” part and said it did not reflect the party’s position.
The Jaswant controversy has provided a new vent through which differences between the Modi backers and those broadly aligned with L.K. Advani, who is still nursing the wounds of the failed seat rebellion, are spilling out.
An Advani acolyte, Sushma had no love lost for Jaswant in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee era but her expression of anguish is being seen as a reflection of her concerns over how matters may pan out under a Modi regime.
It remains to be seen how much political punch Jaswant, who is said to be weighing the option of contesting as an Independent, can pack but the sight of him choking on his words is unlikely to go down well among the moderates and sections of the voters.
Besides, it gives Modi’s critics another chance to underscore that the BJP’s candidate for Prime Minister is unable to carry along those with divergent views and that the party has become a one-man outfit after his rise.
The BJP was also disconcerted by allies Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal on separate counts within a span of 24 hours.
In Maharashtra, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray batted for L.K. Advani and stressed that the patriarch had not lost his “relevance”.
In Punjab on Friday, Akali Dal chief and Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal proposed Arun Jaitley as the deputy Prime Minister if the NDA were to come to power at the Centre.
Uddhav may be trying to settle scores after the hurt over suggestions that the BJP was hobnobbing with his cousin Raj. Badal may have sprung the deputy Prime Minister card to lift the profile of Jaitley after Amarinder Singh was forced to enter the fray and throw open the Amritsar contest.
But the confluence of the events caught the BJP off guard in the middle of a drive to dominate the news cycle by pulling new converts out of its hat every day.
The Congress, gleeful at the prospect of a break in the steady stream of bad news, grabbed the straws with gusto.
“We would like to hear from Sushma Swaraj and Rajnath Singh whether they have chosen to play second fiddle to Jaitley who was only a minister of state in Vajpayee cabinet for the first few years,” said Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress manager in Punjab, seeking to milk the open secret that the joust for the Number 2 place in the BJP is as intense as was the claim for the first position.
In Amritsar, Jaitley played down Badal’s statement and stressed that he was “not looking for any position”. “These are comments made in the course of a campaign. What probably he must have in mind is that Punjab should have a good voice at the Centre,” Jaitley said.
The proclamation from Maharashtra was more embarrassing for the BJP that had crushed Advani’s seat rebellion with finesse.
In an editorial in the Sena mouthpiece Samna, Uddhav wrote: “There is talk that a ‘Modi era’ has started in BJP but the ‘Advani era’ has not yet ended in the country’s politics. He has achieved this pinnacle of success by his struggles and sacrifices in public life.”
In what BJP sources considered was an “outright intervention” in their business, Uddhav asked why Advani was “denied” the “privilege” of choosing his constituency when the “others” were given one.
He complimented Advani for being in the pink of health despite his advanced age and for having an “unblemished” political image.
Sources said an “upset” BJP president Rajnath Singh phoned Uddhav, mentioned the editorial and asked if the Sena really intended to field its own candidates independent of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
Sources said Uddhav was “non-committal” and that he was under “enormous pressure” from the state units to do so or “face a revolt”.
Rajnath told reporters nobody was “ignored” or “passed over” when candidates were nominated. He said none of the leaders, including himself, Narendra Modi, Sushma Swaraj and Jaitley, figured in the first list.
The 25-year-old Sena-BJP equation recently hit its roughest patch yet after Nitin Gadkari, the former BJP president, openly spoke of roping in the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in the Maharashtra coalition and then meeting the MNS chief, Raj Thackeray, quite a few times.
As long as Pramod Mahajan, also from Maharashtra, was around, he steered the BJP-Sena partnership through its ups and downs by reaching out to Bal Thackeray. After Mahajan died, there was nobody to step into his shoes.