| A hoarding with Uma's picture being removed in Bhopal on Wednesday. (PTI)
Bhopal, Nov. 10: Barring a lone MLA from her home district Tikamgarh, all BJP legislators and office-bearers in Madhya Pradesh deserted Uma Bharti today.
Grinning from ear to ear, Uma's successor Babulal Gaur was a picture of confidence and authority. He threw the chief minister's house open to all minutes after images of a defiant Uma storming out of the BJP executive overshadowed Dhanteras festivities.
Since morning, BJP leaders had been busy making use of Dhanteras, considered an auspicious day for setting up businesses, starting new projects, housewarming, deciding wedding dates and buying cars and jewellery.
But once the news of Uma's suspension became public, BJP leaders left 'auspicious work' for another day and hordes of state ministers, MLAs and other leaders vied with each other to touch Gaur's feet.
Uma loyalists arrived, too. Archana Chitnis, Narendra Tomar, Gauri Shankar Shejwar and many more ministers and MLAs joined in. Each had a similar reaction: 'Didi has gone too far. She has crossed the lakshman rekha of party discipline. How can anyone challenge L.K. Advani and get away in the BJP!'
Only Jitendra Singh Bundela, the MLA from Tikamgarh, suggested that the decision to suspend Uma should be reconsidered. But even he made it clear he would abide by the party line.
Gaur repeated one sentence to all his guests: 'Mithai khaiye, yeh khushi ka mauqa hai (Have sweets, it is time for celebration).' The chief minister later clarified that the celebrations were for ushering in Diwali and Id, but everyone knew what he meant.
His body language, too, changed between 12.30 pm and 12.45 pm. At 12.30, Gaur was urging his guests to listen to a recording of a flute recital by Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia. But as the clock struck 12.44, his cellphone rang and the caller from Delhi confirmed Uma's suspension. The chief minister immediately signalled to the journalists that he was ready to speak.
The smiling face turned stern as the words rolled out: 'Uma Bharti has always been a hurdangi (troublemaker). I am glad she has been shown the door. It is a signal for others too to behave properly.' Asked if he feared that BJP legislators would side with Uma, he looked surprised. 'Have you ever seen people jumping into a sinking boat' It is a time to stay with the leadership.'
Sources said initially Gaur's Dhanteras menu consisted of two sweets ' rasmalai and ice cream ' but laddoos and jalebis were added at the last moment, coinciding with Uma's exit.
Gaur has reason to be happy. Since Uma's return as BJP general secretary earlier this month, the chief minister has been shaky. The septuagenarian leader feared that an influential section of party MLAs and ministers loyal to Uma were itching to interfere in matters of governance and organisation.
The chief minister had been unhappy about Uma's visit to Bhanwarpura near Gwalior where 14 Gujjars were massacred by a dacoit, Rambabu Gadaria. Uma had accused the state government of 'utter failure'.
By 2 pm, when it was clear Uma had not managed to get any support in the party, Gaur was a relieved man. A close political aide whispered in his ears: 'Sir, from today, you have become a 'real' chief minister.' Gaur nodded, signalling to the sky. 'It is all up to the Almighty. Rewards and punishments are made in heaven.'