The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singed Naidu shuttles to beat BJP heat

New Delhi, Sept. 2: Stung by the land-grab allegation and the whisper campaign within the party for his removal, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has opted to stay away from the central headquarters.

Party sources said Naidu reckoned this was his “best defence” against the growing criticism which started after an Andhra Pradesh newspaper alleged he had taken away 45 acres of land meant for the landless in the seventies. With the party failing to put up a concerted defence, Naidu, they said, chose to stay out in the south.

First, he organised a BJP zonal conference in Bangalore. Since then, he has been shuttling between Bangalore, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram and has been addressing the press regularly.

He has also kept out of his home state, Andhra, where the Opposition hit the streets after the land-grab “scam” was reported. His detractors in the state BJP, too, have reportedly done their bit to stoke the agitation, sources said.

BJP sources here claimed that Naidu had tried to get in touch with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to “project” his viewpoint but failed. Sources said Vajpayee — who is reportedly “indifferent” to Naidu and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi — refused to hear out a party colleague when he tried to plead Naidu’s case at a meeting of the central election committee couple of weeks ago.

This colleague tried to attract Vajpayee’s attention to a letter written by Naidu to the Nellore district collector in which he had said he would return the land he had allegedly usurped.

Insiders say Vajpayee is miffed with both Naidu and Modi. While Naidu had allegedly suggested last March that the Prime Minister should contest the presidential election, Modi had publicly slighted Vajpayee when he had suggested that the Gujarat chief minister should abide by “raj dharam” at the height of the communal violence.

The subtle “remove-Naidu” sentiment got a fillip last week when veteran journalist Ram Bahadur Rai slammed the BJP chief in his weekly column in the Hindi daily Jansatta. Rai’s writings are taken seriously by the Sangh parivar.

He was the all-India general secretary of the RSS’ students’ wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, for 10 years when high-profile present-day leaders like Naidu and Arun Jaitley were just members.

“From the facts that have come up, certain conclusions can be drawn,” Rai wrote. “Venkaiah Naidu must have taken possession of this land after giving false information about himself. He was a legislator at the time the land was handed over. While a legislator can be landless, by no stretch of the imagination could he claim to be below the poverty line. This point can be verified by the Prime Minister himself by checking out the details of the personal assets and properties Naidu had filed while he was a member of his Cabinet and whether the land in question was listed or not.”

The allegation, Rai wrote, has left the BJP’s rank and file shell-shocked. “Bangaru Laxman,” Rai claimed, “was the victim of a conspiracy. As the Tehelka secrets were unravelled, it became clear that it was not journalism but a political conspiracy. Bangaru Laxman was caught taking a lakh of rupees... He said he donated the amount to the party’s coffers. But shouldn’t the BJP have meted out the same treatment to Naidu as it did to Laxman'” In other words, Naidu should have been asked to resign.

Despite the impact Rai’s column had on the BJP, there was also a feeling that changing heads frequently would confirm the worst about the party’s “integrity” instead of helping it to retrieve the moral ground.

In the last two years, two presidents were changed — Laxman, post-Tehelka, and K. Jana Krishnamurthi for no ostensible reason other than “wanting to bring a younger person”.

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