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LK stirs up Yashwant storm

LK Advani outside the Hazaribagh jail where he met Yashwant Sinha on Tuesday. (PTI)

New Delhi, June 17: L.K. Advani’s declaration of Yashwant Sinha as the BJP’s prospective chief ministerial candidate in Jharkhand today put the party’s central office-bearers in a fix.

Although the patriarch’s writ no longer runs in the BJP of Narendra Modi, sources said they feared that his statement, made in the presence of former Jharkhand chief minister Arjun Munda, might re-open the intense jockeying for the top post the state is known for. The BJP remains a divided house in Jharkhand, the sources said.

Advani visited Sinha at the Hazaribagh jail, where he is lodged for the past 14 days since his arrest for leading protesters who allegedly assaulted a state electricity board official. They were protesting frequent power outages in Hazaribagh, Sinha’s former constituency from where his son Jayant has won the last election.

After the visit, Advani lauded Sinha for launching a “historic agitation” in the “cause of the poor villagers” and said he “deserves all praise and support”.

In a snipe at Munda, who had accompanied him on his aircraft to Hazaribagh, Advani said: “Prior to this agitation, probably no other BJP leader in the state had ever launched such a significant movement in Jharkhand. Had this type of andolan (agitation) been undertaken by the BJP, the picture of this state would have been different.”

Asked if Sinha had spearheaded the protest to stay active in Jharkhand politics, Advani replied: “Why not? He is capable of leading Jharkhand after the Assembly polls and being the right person to become the next chief minister of a state that requires good governance and able leadership, particularly after the historic 2014 poll verdict.”

A BJP general secretary rejected Advani’s statement, stressing: “Such decisions cannot be taken unilaterally. So far the party has not thought of who will lead the BJP in the next election. A decision will be taken after protracted consultations with the top leaders and signed and sealed by the central parliamentary board.”

Munda declined to comment. But a source close to him said: “We have a government at the Centre where perhaps Sinha can play a role.”

Sinha, 76, opted not to contest the Lok Sabha polls after the RSS signalled that those over 70 should step back from active politics and mentor their juniors. He expected to lead by example, hoping that Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi would emulate him. But they did not. BJP sources added that Sinha expected his son to get a junior minister’s berth in lieu of his “sacrifice”. But again he was disappointed.

Sinha’s attempt to do an Arvind Kejriwal, “courting arrest” and serving time in jail, has also left the Delhi leaders cold. BJP president Rajnath Singh spoke to him once. Until Advani came today, Sinha’s only visitors were Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Shahnawaz Hussain and Shatrughan Sinha, all three of them leaders from neighbouring Bihar. Shatrughan is also a dear friend.

“For someone who was the country’s finance and external affairs minister to watch a worker tie up an officer is unbecoming of his stature. Iska galat asar hua party pe (It had an adverse impact on the party),” a source said.

Sinha has refused to seek bail although Jayant claimed he would not get it even if he applied. “Even if he appeals, his plea will be rejected so it cannot be compared with Kejriwal’s case. The (Jharkhand) government has been intransigent,” he said.

While Jayant denied that the central BJP has been indifferent to Sinha, sources said he had “persuaded” Advani to make the trip to Hazaribagh.

Sinha was among a handful in the BJP who initially opposed Modi’s projection as candidate for Prime Minister. Later, when he saw how the scales were tipping, he changed his position.