The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP takes bahu burst battering
- Image dented further, fingers on Mahajan

New Delhi, Dec. 14: The BJP might believe that television actor Smriti Z. Irani has hurt only her credibility, but sources admitted she has dented the party's already fragile image and made the leaders more suspicious of one another.

Several names ranging from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Pramod Mahajan and Uma Bharti to Gujarat MP Kashiram Rana are being taken in connection with the outburst of television's favourite bahu against Narendra Modi as various theories and speculations swirl in the BJP circles.

Vajpayee distanced himself from the controversy after she dragged his name in to buttress her demand for the Gujarat chief minister's resignation. So did Naidu after reports that he had summoned Smriti to Delhi to seek an 'explanation' on behalf of party president L.K. Advani.

But the person most under 'scrutiny' is Mahajan. The general secretary is regarded as the one responsible for bringing the actor into the BJP at a time when she was reportedly being wooed by the Congress. As the party's manager for the Lok Sabha polls, the sources maintained he swung a ticket from Delhi for Smriti, a political neophyte who is supposed to have impressed Mahajan and his brother-in-law Gopinath Munde with her 'capacity to articulate' on the issues of the day.

Mahajan, on the fringes after Advani took over, was tasked to 'rein in' Smriti after her outburst which, the sources claimed, he did in a 'questionable' manner. The actor read out the retraction he wrote in the manner of a TV script but with the all-important caveat that she was told to do so. 'Her body language and voice on TV said it all. She did it under obvious duress,' a source said.

With Mahajan's stock plunging after the Maharashtra rout, there is a belief among his detractors that he 'put her up' to undermine his rivals. But this theory was dismissed by others, who felt the seasoned politico would rather wait than resort to such ham-handed devices. A Mahajan follower had landed in Delhi from Maharashtra and circulated for two days among reporters to put out his 'version' of the events.

Another explanation for the haste with which a retraction was coaxed out of Smriti was that it was primarily aimed at facilitating Uma's return as general secretary to the BJP. The sources said if Smriti was expelled, as Advani was inclined to do on Sunday night, it could have blocked Uma's reinduction as questions were bound to be raised on why separate yardsticks were used for Mahajan and Modi.

Uma was unsparing in the words she used for Mahajan and Naidu in the letters she was supposed to have sent to Advani. 'Would we have concluded that Modi was a class apart and could not be criticised while Mahajan and Naidu were fair game' asked a source.

As for Rana, Gujarat party sources claimed that Modi's confidants are 'convinced' the Surat MP had goaded Smriti. Rana is considered to be a long-time rival of Modi and every time there has been a whiff of anti-Modi dissidence, his name has popped up as a prospective replacement. Besides, the actor spoke out in Surat, where she had gone to inaugurate a jewellery showroom.

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