|Pramod Muthalik (top)
and Jaswant Singh
March 23: The BJP tonight was ducking pink chaddis and “furniture” flung from multiple corners after feuds revolving around Narendra Modi brought about unintended consequences.
The scramble for a catch a day suffered an ignominious blow when the BJP welcomed Pramod Muthalik, the vigilante who had targeted women, dating couples and minorities in Mangalore, and dumped him shortly afterwards. ( )
The BJP central leadership sought to distance itself from the fiasco after Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar put his foot down and warned of a backlash.
By late tonight, whispers were doing the rounds that Muthalik, whose bigoted views on lifestyle choices earned him packets of pink underwear mailed by incensed women, was deliberately courted to show the dominant camp in the BJP in poor light.
Sources in Delhi appeared to blame Ananth Kumar, the Karnataka satrap who is counted in the L.K. Advani camp. But others dismissed it as “belated wisdom”, suggesting the central leadership was trying to find a scapegoat. The tendency to let in all comers was already a festering wound with Sushma Swaraj, another Advani acolyte, tweeting against an earlier entrant from the same state.
Another interpretation was that the BJP, which has been projecting a moderate face of late, was loath to lose the support of hardcore elements represented by Muthalik.
Either way, the controversy blew up in the face of the BJP that, a few hours earlier, had positioned itself on the high moral ground but was hit by a barrage from Rajasthan.
Arun Jaitley had publicly lectured Jaswant Singh on “discipline” and “loyalty” without naming him. Jaswant hit back at the party brass after confirming he would be contesting as an Independent.
In a blog that seemed aimed at Jaswant and Sushma who had expressed “personal pain” at the veteran being denied the Barmer seat, Jaitley said a politician should sometimes accept “no” as an answer — and accept it “with a smile”.
“This becomes a test of his loyalty and discipline. Restraint and silence are always a preferred option. Overreaction may prove to be a transient storm in a teacup. Silence is always dignified and more gracious,” he wrote.
If this was an attempt at fire-fighting, it had little immediate success.
Jaswant, asked about BJP president Rajnath Singh’s assurance that he would be “adjusted”, said: “My request cannot be ‘adjusted’. I am not a piece of furniture. I am not a table or a chair which can be adjusted anywhere.”
He added: “The word ‘adjust’ reeks of arrogance. One cannot ‘adjust’ with principles; and it is insulting.”
Jaswant said he would file his nomination tomorrow from his preferred Barmer Lok Sabha seat in Rajasthan. In a television interview tonight, Jaitley expressed the hope that Jaswant would reconsider the decision.
Asked whether he would quit the party, Jaswant said he would first talk to his supporters in Barmer.
Party sources said that if Jaswant went ahead and contested without quitting the BJP, he might be expelled — for the second time in less than five years. But first, the BJP will wait and see whether he agrees to withdraw his nomination after “striking a bargain”.
“Don’t underestimate our party’s geriatrics. They are more adept at wangling deals than us younger ones,” a party official said.
The fault-lines created by the struggle between the Modi and Advani camps appear unlikely to heal in the near future because some like Sushma and Ananth Kumar have been clinging on to Advani’s coattails. They realise that if Modi becomes Prime Minister, they will be staring at a bleak future.
Sushma had yesterday sympathised openly with Jaswant and said the central election committee had not discussed the Barmer seat, insinuating that a senior like her was kept in the dark.
Asked about this, Jaitley replied: “Ultimately, every decision is a party decision and leaders must abide by party decisions.”
In his blog, he noted: “A political party is built upon the support of millions of political workers who have sacrificed their time and energy without ever aspiring to hold elected office. What does a politician do when, after a successful political career, the party is unable to accommodate him once?”
He answered: “That is when his discipline and political loyalty are to be tested.”
A couple of weeks ago, when Sushma had tweeted her dissent against the re-induction of Karnataka rebel B. Sriramulu, Jaitley had advised her in a blog to focus on maximising the BJP’s gains instead of getting distracted by “marginal issues”.
Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje has summoned all her seven MLAs from constituencies falling under the Barmer Lok Sabha seat to discuss the situation.
Some of these MLAs had earlier protested the ticket going to a recent defector from the Congress, Sona Ram Choudhary. All these MLAs had assembled in Jaipur by tonight except one — Jaswant’s son Manvendra, MLA from Sheo.
Manvendra’s personal secretary Ram Singh released a statement saying he was unwell and had been advised a month’s bed rest, giving rise to speculation that he would not campaign for Sona Ram. Sources said Manvendra may be asked for an explanation.
Barmer has about 1.5 lakh Rajput voters, and sizeable Dalit, tribal and Muslim populations who have a soft corner for the Rajput Jaswant. Sona Ram, however, is a member of the seat’s dominant Jat community.
Jaswant’s rebellion can help Congress candidate Harish Choudhary and put a spanner in Raje’s “Target 25” mission — the 25 seats she has promised Narendra Modi, who campaigned extensively before the December Assembly polls to help her regain power.