The Telegraph
Thursday , February 28 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP poll dilemma on choice of state heads

New Delhi, Feb. 27: The one-person-one-post dilemma is haunting the BJP.

The trigger was Vijay Goel’s appointment as Delhi BJP chief last week. The selection raised questions on the “principles” and “process” adopted by Rajnath Singh when choosing state unit chiefs.

Party sources said barring the BJP president and his confidants, the others, including senior leaders, were “clueless” about how Goel, a general secretary and a former Lok Sabha MP, made the cut, more so in an election year. Delhi goes to the polls in November.

The BJP has been losing the Assembly elections since 1998 and drew a blank in the city’s seven parliamentary seats in 2009.

Those close to Goel claimed he would be pitted against warhorse and chief minister Sheila Dikshit. But the suggestion was tossed aside by a top leader who said the question of projecting Goel did “not arise”.

Goel’s electoral record is not bright: apart from losing Lok Sabha elections, he did not deliver Assembly seats in his former stronghold, Chandni Chowk.

Goel was a junior minister in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s PMO and was supposedly close to the veteran’s family. Once Vajpayee faded into political twilight, Goel used the connections his father Charti Lal Goel, a former Delhi Assembly speaker, had with the RSS.

However, a source foregrounded a larger issue for the party at the heart of Goel’s nomination — whether Rajnath ought to have gone for potential chief ministerial contenders when choosing party chiefs in states where the BJP is not in power.

The source said the issue was important because when the BJP was in Opposition, the party chief, by design or by accident, emerged as the power centre.

But the power dynamics often changed in the run-up to a state election. It often dawned on strategists that the incumbent president might not necessarily be an ideal chief ministerial candidate. “An adept organisational hand might not always be the most charismatic face,” the source said.

The upshot was that when another person was picked as the chief ministerial face, the organisation — by then packed with the loyalists of the state chief — was used as an adversarial weapon against the candidate. The prospective chief minister often did not have his or her way in vetting candidates and influencing strategies.

That explains why Vasundhara Raje insisted on taking over the Rajasthan BJP despite opposition from a clutch of old leaders who the RSS allegedly encouraged into a “revolt”.

“Vasundhara’s logic was simple. If she could not have her way in candidate selection and shaping poll discourse, what was in it for her to lead the party?” the source asked.

Narendra Modi didn’t have to grapple with the one-person-one-post issue because his overweening presence left no space for the rest. He was chief minister and the de facto Gujarat BJP president, the source said.

Vasundhara’s “success” prompted BJP strategists to ask why the Rajasthan “experiment” should not be replicated in the high-stakes states. They identified Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Odisha as those where it was important to have a party president who would also lead the party in elections.