| Uma Bharti: Cloud thickens
New Delhi, Aug. 20: The BJP parliamentary board — the party’s apex decision-making body — will decide on Monday whether or not Uma Bharti will continue as Madhya Pradesh chief minister after a warrant was issued against her in a 10-year-old case of communal violence.
On August 15, 1994, after Uma hoisted the Tricolour on the disputed Idgah ground at Hubli in Karnataka, communal violence erupted and four people were killed in police firing. Uma and 21 others were charged with attempt to murder, arson, attack on public servants doing their duty and rioting with deadly weapons, all of which are non-bailable offences.
Between 1995 and 2002, several summons and warrants, bailable and non-baliable, which required Uma’s presence in the magistrate’s court, were issued but she did not answer them. On August 3, a Karnataka sessions court declared Uma a “proclaimed offender” and ordered the attachment of her property to force her to appear before it. The next hearing is on September 19.
The case has put the BJP in a fix after it went all out against JMM chief Shibu Soren for a warrant served on him in a 29-year-old case and took the credit for his resignation from the Manmohan Singh government. With the boot on the other foot, party sources admitted it would now be “untenable” to defend Uma for too long and retain her as chief minister.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal, which spearheaded the offensive against Uma in Parliament today, threatened to stall proceedings till she puts in her papers. “If they allege we have tainted ministers, we should counter the attack by turning the heat on their tainted ministers,” party chief Laloo Prasad Yadav told parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
For the record, the BJP insisted that Uma’s and Soren’s cases were different. “All the cases against her pertain to hoisting the national flag. Despite that, keeping in view the moral grounds, we have convened a meeting of the parliamentary board to discuss all aspects of the issue,” spokesperson Sushma Swaraj said.
The BJP’s other arguments in Uma’s defence are:
• It was the Congress government in Karnataka that decided to withdraw the case after the Idgah dispute was amicably resolved
• The government revived it once the BJP turned the heat on the “tainted” ministers and, therefore, the motives are “suspect”
• The case does not involve moral turpitude
• Uma has time till September 19 to appear in court
Asked if the chief minister would be told to resign, Sushma said she had already conveyed her willingness to do so. But Uma, who met leader of Opposition and mentor L.K. Advani on her way to Punjab today, denied she had offered to step down.
While a large section of the BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit wants Uma to go, she has powerful backers in Delhi who feel her resignation would “undermine” the foundation of the state government and hasten a similar demand in Gujarat, where Narendra Modi is facing the heat. Party leader Arun Jaitley said the general inclination is against accepting Uma’s resignation.