The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Snubbed rivals sulk, but switch to poll gear

Indore (Malwa), Nov. 26: Hers may be the most acceptable face for change in Madhya Pradesh, but Uma Bharti is certainly not the most popular within her own party.

The BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, known for her tactless remarks, made more enemies than friends when she launched her election campaign in this region. Several party heavyweights, with deep political roots in Malwa, resented the backing she got from the central leadership, particularly deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

At least three central ministers — Satya Narain Jatiya, Vikram Verma and Sumitra Mahajan — suddenly found themselves pushed to the margins. Their list of candidates was shot down and replaced by those handpicked by Uma. There were also others like former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Sunderlal Patwa and Sartaj Singh, a BJP vice-president, who received the same shoddy treatment.

For quite a while the leaders sulked in private and did not join in the campaigning. But the central leadership made no placatory gestures, making it clear that Uma would have the last word on the selection of candidates.

The offended leaders licked their wounds but have now come around, at least for the party’s sake. “It is true. We were offended by the way the chief ministerial candidate was foisted on us. But now all of us are campaigning hard in the areas we are sent to by the party leadership,” says a central minister.

Verma, whose candidates did not find a place on the final list, says: “I am a loyal soldier of the party and will campaign wherever the party wants me.” As for Mahajan, she has set out to campaign in the tribal belt of Jhabua after staying put at home for some time.

At the beginning, even the RSS leadership in Malwa was not happy with the BJP’s choice of chief minister. Now there is a grudging acceptance.

“Whatever she does we are sure she will not insult Hindus,” says RSS leader Mukesh Jain. As proof of Uma’s unflinching “loyalty” to her community, Jain reminds: “When Ayodhya charges were framed, she said she and seven generations in her family will be happy to face a charge like this.”

For the time being, the anti-Uma resentment has been driven underground but not driven out. Under pressure from the central leadership, the miffed leaders are doing their bit, but with great reluctance.

“It is true that our heart is not in the campaign,” says a central minister.

One leader has another explanation. “Uma has never done any organisational work in this area. She always projected herself as an all-India leader. She never attended any district committee meetings,” he says. “It is not in her nature to sit in any place for five minutes.”

What has angered the Malwa leaders most is that the central leadership has, for the first time, unilaterally projected an individual as chief minister before going to the polls. “The state committees were not properly consulted. We have a tradition of collective responsibility,” says a party leader. In the past, all BJP chief ministers here were elected after the BJP won the polls.

There is a feeling that Uma will not be able to carry the organisation with her. Her detractors have one question on their lips: Will she make a good chief minister' It’s too late in the day for such thoughts. So they are patronising.

Seekh lengin. Intelligent hain (She is intelligent, will learn the job),” they say.

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