| BJP workers damage a Congress car outside the BJP headquarters in Delhi. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Aug. 29: A day after Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa opposed the idea of “foreigner” Sonia Gandhi becoming Prime Minister, the BJP was quick to pick up the cue and revive what had become a dormant issue after the 1999 polls.
The party’s youth wing, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, demanded that the Congress replace Sonia as AICC President and leader of the Opposition “in the interest of the country”.
A statement issued by morcha president G. Kishan Reddy praised Jayalalithaa for saying it was “a crying shame and a pointer to the moral bankruptcy of the Congress which was in the forefront of the struggle to end foreign rule to do an about-turn”.
Reddy said: “It is really tragic that the party which ruled for more than 50 years has chosen its leader who has foreign origins. This is really shameful to the Congress party, in particular, and the country in general”.
At first, the BJP did not react to its youth wing’s statement. Party spokesman Sunil Shastri said it was the morcha’s demand and the party was not associated with it.
“We can’t take any decision at the moment. It will be taken by the party’s leadership. The issue has been reopened by Jayalalithaa and a general discussion will be held on it,” he said.
Shastri was circumspect because he is a relative newcomer in the BJP, having joined it just three years ago. Moments later, the party’s chief spokesman Arun Jaitley arrived and his response was far more candid: “The Yuva Morcha is a part of the BJP. If they are saying something, how can we disown it'”
At the same time, he conceded that choosing a party president was the Congress’ prerogative. Jaitley was replying to a question whether the BJP would allow itself to be dictated if the Opposition demanded that M. Venkaiah Naidu should quit as party president after the land-grab allegation against him. “We obviously can’t appoint their president but our Yuva Morcha was expressing their views on the matter,” said Jaitley.
BJP sources said in private that the resurrection of Sonia’s “foreign” origins suited them in several ways.
First, it became a rallying point to galvanise the cadre which, by the party’s admission, was demoralised after the string of scams linked to its ministers. Sources said today’s protests against the Congress was pegged to the murder of councillor Atmaram Gupta, “Jayalalithaa’s attack on Sonia gave an added impetus”.
Second, the BJP saw in it the potential to divide the “Congress parivar”. The party is already smelling blood with the Nationalist Congress Party’s Maharashtra spokesman, Naseem Siddiqui, supporting Jayalalithaa.
Siddiqui, whose party is a partner of the Congress-led government in Maharashtra, dared the ally to pull out of the Maharashtra coalition and asserted that the NCP would never compromise on its stand that Sonia should not be Prime Minister.
The BJP was restive after a recent poll claimed that in the popularity sweepstakes to lead the country, Sonia was gradually catching up with Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while L.K. Advani lagged way behind.
While it would not have suited the party to rake up the foreign-origin issue on its own — especially after the Supreme Court had ruled that Sonia was a bona fide Indian citizen — the party was not against the idea of riding piggyback on another party.
After Jayalalithaa took the lead, BJP sources said, the issue may figure in the Gujarat campaign, particularly to attract white-collar votes.
Former finance minister P Chidambaram and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Laloo Prasad Yadav suggested the hand of the BJP-RSS behind Jayalalithaa’s outburst.
“It is evident from her demeanour that Jayalalithaa has chosen her words deliberately, memorised them, practised her delivery and came to the press conference with a carefully drafted plan. Earlier in the day, she had met Advani,” Chidambaram said in a statement.