The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Land-grab tremor rocks Naidu chair

New Delhi, Aug. 23: BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu’s move to surrender the “blot” plot of land he allegedly usurped back in the seventies has not washed too well with the party.

“Where is the virtue in returning stolen goods after you took them away'” asked a BJP minister.

There have been murmurs in the party’s rank and file on whether the BJP can afford to have a president accused of land-grabbing before the Gujarat elections and those scheduled to follow thereafter. “He may prove to be a liability during an election campaign because the Opposition, especially those like Mulayam and Laloo, are bound to go to town on how he took away land meant for the Dalits,” said a senior leader.

Although nobody has yet stated in so many words that Naidu should step down, there have been suggestions to the effect that “if Bangaru Laxman resigned immediately after the Tehelka scam, shouldn’t the same principle apply to others under a cloud of doubt and suspicion”'

BJP sources said the question of asking Naidu to quit would arise if there were a couple of other exposures in the media against him. But there is an apprehension that if the Andhra Pradesh Congress went to court against the alleged land-grab case, it may become “untenable” to continue with him.

Even the BJP’s response to Naidu’s gesture of surrender was a bit curious in that it did not attempt to counter the basic charge that the party leader had misappropriated land meant for the landless under an Andhra government welfare scheme.

Describing the act as “noble, very noble”, party spokesman Sunil Shastri said: “Now he feels he doesn’t need the land. By the grace of god, he has become a member of Parliament and now BJP president. Would any other party president have done it'”

The BJP’s main worry was not so much in dispensing away with Naidu as finding a replacement. With Pramod Mahajan’s reputation taking a beating after the Shivani Bhatnagar murder case, sources said there was no way he could be considered for party presidentship, though under normal circumstances his chances were probably the “brightest”.

“That leaves us with Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley and possibly, Rajnath Singh. But whoever the choice in the event that Naidu may have to go, the leaders will have to ensure their record in public life is irrefutably spotless,” said sources.

Indeed, there was a thinking within the BJP that rather than hunt for a new candidate, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani should be asked to take over if the situation so demanded while continuing to be in the government.

“As it is, he is virtually controlling the party. The only thing is he would be required to be physically present at the headquarter once or twice a week,” the sources pointed out.

The land-grab accusation, in a sense, proved to be the focal point for a litany of grouses the BJP harboured against Naidu since he took over the party. Members — who were disconcerted at the manner in which he was virtually “foisted” on them mid-stream without an organisational election — pointed out that one of his first acts was to get the party headquarter refurbished to look like a “corporate office” with expensive tiles and fancy furniture.

They were also upset by the fact that entry to the reception was permitted only through security checks, and there again visitors were thoroughly scrutinised before being allowed inside. “It is a culture shock for the poor who travel from states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in crumpled kurtas and rubber chappals for a darshan of their netas. Often they are not allowed inside. Can a party run in this manner'” asked sources.

Moreover, despite a list of do’s and don’t’s for the cadre issued by Naidu after he assumed charge as the president — stressing on simplicity and asking to avoiding sycophancy in public life — he was accorded “ostentatious” receptions in his first visit to Andhra. “Instead of flowers, which probably cost Rs 10 per bunch, he was greeted with angavastras which cost Rs 50 per piece,” alleged sources.

Kushabhau Thakre is the only leader in recent times to have completed a full term as the BJP president. Laxman, who succeeded him, quit after a year and so did Krishnamurthi. Members wondered whether a similar fate would befall Naidu even before he completed a year.

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