The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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One after other, BJP splits Cong families

March 1: Veteran Congress leader Arjun Singh’s son Ajay today called on L.K. Advani and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu separately, fuelling speculation on what could be the biggest blow yet to Sonia Gandhi’s party.

That is not all. The Congress “parivar”, the BJP’s prime target in the run-up to the elections, might lose four veterans soon. They are Nawal Kishore Sharma, Balram Jakhar and Girija Vyas from Rajasthan and C.K. Jaffer Sharief, once P.V. Narasimha Rao’s aide and one of the party’s best known Muslim faces. For the record, Sharief maintained he would “rather die” than go to the BJP.

Ajay, one of the few in the Congress to have scraped through in the last Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, denied he was planning to join the BJP. But party sources claimed the “deal” will be sealed once an appropriate Lok Sabha seat is found for him.

The news that Ajay — also known as Rahul — met the BJP leaders upset Arjun Singh. “The very question is an insult to me,” the Congress’ most vocal secular voice rasped when reporters sought his comment.

“He is not a slave of anybody, least of all mine,” Arjun told PTI, asked if Ajay might join the BJP. “I just cannot believe it.”

In Madhya Pradesh Congress circles, Ajay has an image of an “obedient son” who seldom acts on his own. Both he and his father are said to be influenced by Arjun’s wife Saroj, popularly called Rani Sahiba. Although she has no direct role in politics, Congress workers are unanimous that she influences the decisions of both father and son.

If Ajay does join the BJP, it would be the second political family in Madhya Pradesh to be split by the party. The first was when Digvijay Singh’s younger brother Laxman was inducted last week. Even if the uproar in the Congress eventually deters Ajay, the meeting in Delhi has compounded the confusion in the party ranks, leaving many to wonder who will be the next to switch sides.

Politics continued to mirror the never-ending saga of splits in television soaps as another family witnessed a dramatic twist. Ranjit Singh, the son of Devi Lal and younger brother of Haryana chief minister and Indian National Lok Dal leader Om Prakash Chautala switched over to the BJP from the Congress.

Ranjit and Chautala have had a long-standing feud but NDA sources expressed dismay at the BJP’s “shoddy” attitude towards its allies. For the record, the INLD is still a constituent of the NDA although its alliance with the BJP will not hold for the Lok Sabha polls.

The BJP snapped ties with the INLD after the state leaders impressed on the Delhi bosses that there was a “huge” anti-incumbency wave against the Chautala government which could hit the BJP as hard, if not more than its ally.

Ranjit came with his Jat supporters and addressed them in the presence of Naidu and cabinet minister Arun Jaitley. It is not clear if and where Ranjit will be put up because of the Haryana unit’s “opposition” to rewarding new entrants promptly with tickets.

In Karnataka, another family is on the verge of a split. Former chief minister S. Bangarappa seems set to join the BJP, though his son Kumar is a minister in the outgoing S.M. Krishna government. Kumar, a film star, has so far opted to continue in the Congress.

BJP sources claimed that the Congress would be wiped out in Karnataka if Bangarappa left. “There is no information, no confirmation. Why should I rule it out' Why should I welcome it'” Naidu said, asked if Bangarappa would join the BJP.

The two sons-in-law of the late Ramakrishna Hegde also met Advani. But BJP general secretary Pramod Majahan said Advani’s meeting with Gopal and Manu Nichani, who came with Ajay, was not connected with politics.

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