The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Women CMs flex selection muscle

New Delhi, March 19: Uma Bharti and Vasundhara Raje appear to be wielding considerable clout in selecting Lok Sabha candidates unlike their male counterparts among BJP chief ministers.

If the amount of influence wielded by the party’s chief ministers in selecting candidates is an indication of their clout, the Madhya Pradesh chief minister is well on top. The Rajasthan list is yet to be released, but sources say chief minister Vasundhara is likely to have a “big say” there.

But the supposedly invincible Narendra Modi has fallen behind in the selection sweepstakes, failing to push through a single name in Gujarat, sources say.

The Goa and Jharkhand chief ministers Manohar Parrikar and Arjun Munda were not involved in selection because the BJP has decided to renominate sitting MPs in those states where it performed well in the last elections.

Madhya Pradesh BJP sources said Uma was instrumental in having Balaghat MP and key confidant Prahlad Patel shifted to nearby Chhindwara where he will take on the Congress’ Kamal Nath. Patel was reportedly interested in fighting from Balaghat but was persuaded by Uma to make the switch. “We want to project Patel as a giant-killer,” a source said.

Barring a byelection in 1997 — when the BJP’s Sunderlal Patwa trounced Kamal Nath — Chhindwara has been a Congress bastion. “Even that bypoll win was not really spectacular because the entire party machinery was pressed into service. The real test will come in a general election,” a source said.

Until now, the BJP has always settled for a local candidate, “knowing well that Chhindwara was the toughest seat”.

Sources said Uma stressed the importance of choosing younger candidates, preferably with ideological moorings, and was “particular” about the seats the BJP lost in 1999. It was reportedly at her instance that an older MP, Jaishree Banerjee, was eased out in Jabalpur for the “more dynamic” Rakesh Singh. Khargone, which went to the Congress the last time, saw the exit of the older Rameshwar Patidar in favour of former RSS pracharak Krishna Murari Moghe.

Modi has not been able to have his way. His bete noire Keshubhai Patel is a member of the BJP parliamentary board, its apex decision-making body and the central election committee. Another Modi bugbear — former chief minister Suresh Mehta — has been put in charge of the election campaign in Gujarat.

Sources said Modi wanted the sitting MPs from Jamnagar, Dhanduka, Kutch, Valsad and Mandvi replaced and even proposed their replacements, but his proposal was rejected.

Unlike Uma, who was backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Modi lost this lifeline after his spat with the Sangh farmers’ front over the power tariff hike, the sources added.

In Rajasthan, where the BJP holds 16 of the 24 seats, sources said they were not expecting any “major” surprise since the outgoing members were “strong” candidates with their own spheres of influence.

However, Vasundhara is reportedly pushing for her nominee from Jhalawar, a seat she has won several times. Sources also said she was pitching for BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan’s candidature from Jaipur, which has been won seven times by veteran Giridharilal Bhargava. But Mahajan and his bosses are yet to decide if he should enter the fray since he is in charge of overall poll management.

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