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Jaswant ‘fake BJP’ punch at party brass

Jaswant Singh

Jaipur, March 22: Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, upset at being denied a Lok Sabha ticket, today said that a “fake” or “duplicate” faction now held the upper hand over the “real” or “original” BJP.

Asked whether he might quit the party and contest as an Independent from his native Barmer, the constituency he had sought, the outgoing Darjeeling MP said he would decide on Monday.

Jaswant, 76, a former Union minister for defence, external affairs and finance, is particularly hurt because the ticket has been given to a defector from the Congress, Colonel Sona Ram Choudhary, who joined the BJP just four days ago.

“This party is tragically being encroached upon by those who have been arch-detractors of the BJP’s ideology,” the four-time Lok Sabha member and five-time Rajya Sabha member told reporters in Jodhpur.

“It is unfortunate that the BJP has been completely taken over by outsiders who never have had any respect for the party’s ideology.”

He wasn’t finished. “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,” he said.

“But unfortunately, the duplicate part now holds the reins of the party.”

Asked whether he and his father might leave the party, Jaswant’s son Manvendra, an MLA in Rajasthan, told The Telegraph: “I cannot say anything on behalf of my father, but I will not quit the BJP. I did not leave when I lost or did not get a ticket.”

Jaswant himself said he would first visit his ancestral village of Jasol in Barmer district and then travel to Barmer town before deciding his course of action. Sources said the veteran Rajput leader and former army officer wanted to gauge the support on his home turf.

Leaders from various Rajput caste organisations had earlier threatened to “boycott” the BJP if Jaswant was not fielded from Barmer. Jaswant also wields considerable influence on the Muslim voters in this Jat-dominated seat.

Sources said the party MLAs from Jaisalmer, Baytoo and Panchpadra — which fall within Barmer — have offered to resign in protest against Sona Ram’s candidature.

Even BJP workers are agitated and are asking how, having always campaigned against Sona Ram, they can now ask for votes in his favour.

No rethink

Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley indicated there would be no rethink on Jaswant.

“I regret that we were unable to accommodate a senior leader like Jaswant Singh. The party will make place for him in some other position,” he said.

Party president Rajnath Singh said: “He (Jaswant) is a very senior leader and the party respects him. The BJP will utilise his experience to the fullest,” he said.

Party sources, however, said nobody had tried to reach out to Jaswant or Manvendra after the candidate list was announced yesterday.

They said the BJP had earlier offered a minister’s post for Manvendra in Rajasthan but Jaswant was not mollified.

“Jaswant Singhji could also have headed a task force if our government came to power or taken up a prestigious foreign assignment,” a source said.

Sona Ram, a Jat, will take on Rahul Gandhi’s close aide Harish Choudhary, another Jat and the outgoing Barmer MP.

Sona Ram had won from Barmer in 1996, 1998 and 1999 on Congress tickets but lost to Manvendra in 2004. Manvendra lost to Harish in 2009 and was elected to the Rajasthan Assembly last year from Sheo constituency, which falls within the Barmer Lok Sabha seat.

Asked about Sona Ram and his “winnability”, Manvendra said: “I will not vote for him. On second thoughts, I will see how the scenario unfolds. But what can I say about Sona Ram whom I have defeated?”

On the Narendra Modi wave in Rajasthan, especially Barmer, Manvendra said: “I cannot say anything about the Modi wave as I don’t travel outside my constituency. But in Barmer, everything depends on how the scenario is during that particular time.”

Political analysts say that chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who has been at loggerheads with Jaswant, picked Sona Ram to squash the possibility of another power centre developing in the state.

Jaswant not only held key portfolios in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, he is also close to L.K. Advani, another party veteran sulking over the nomination list.

Regarded as an authority on Indian foreign policy and national security, Jaswant is an educated and thoroughbred politician and commands respect in the world of diplomacy.