The Telegraph
Saturday , March 29 , 2014
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Uma plays safe, Smriti braveheart

New Delhi, March 28: Uma Bharti has refused to accept the BJP’s offer to field her against Sonia Gandhi in Rae Bareli, saying she will not leave Jhansi, the first constituency chosen for her.

Smriti Irani is, however, likely to stand against Rahul Gandhi in Amethi.

Yesterday, it was speculated that Uma and Smriti, among the BJP’s popular women leaders, would be pitted against the Gandhis in their fiefs in Uttar Pradesh.

BJP spokesperson Sudanshu Trivedi said Uma had conveyed to the leadership she did not wish to leave Jhansi as it would send an “adverse” signal in the Bundelkhand region from where the BJP is looking to make big gains. Uma said if the party so wished, she would contest from both seats.

“The leaders… decided she should stick to only Jhansi. The BJP respects her wish,” Trivedi said.

Uma remarked in Jhansi: “I have been fortunate that a daughter of Bundelkhand was considered to uproot the daughter of Italy but I cannot desert Jhansi.”

Uma was elected MLA from Charkhari near Jhansi in the 2012 Uttar Pradesh polls.

Although Madhya Pradesh is her home state that also nurtured her political career, Uma was eased out by chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan once he consolidated himself. Out in the cold, Uma chose the next best option — Uttar Pradesh — and made a go of it.

Sources said her shift ensured that the votes of the backward class Lodh-Rajputs, which matter in nearly 20 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh, would also return to the BJP.

The Lodh-Rajputs, almost on a par with the other well-off OBCs like the Yadavs and Kurmis, left the BJP with Kalyan Singh who was their caste leader for years. “With Kalyan losing his sheen after his departures and arrivals into the BJP, Uma has filled the gap in Uttar Pradesh,” a source said.

Jhansi has a big population of Lodh-Rajputs. “Any attempt to force Uma to also fight from Rae Bareli would have upset the caste coalition in Bundelkhand. She would have come across as a casual candidate,” the source said.

Smriti, a Rajya Sabha MP elected from Gujarat, apparently “volunteered” for Rae Bareli. Uma’s name was proposed by yoga exponent, Baba Ramdev. Ramdev was furious because he could not push through his nominee’s candidacy from Punjab’s Gurdaspur where actor Vinod Khanna is back.

Smriti was not available for comment. Uttar Pradesh BJP sources said some local RSS leaders mooted her candidacy. Party chief Rajnath Singh was said to have been “taken aback”.

A week ago, the BJP had offered Rae Bareli to Sonia-baiter Subramanian Swamy who declined. This move, too, was inspired by the RSS that had pushed for Swamy’s induction into the BJP.

The sources said the BJP was keen on “strong” opponents against the Gandhis so that the contest did not become “too one-sided”. The Samajwadi Party will not field candidates against them.

However, many questioned Smriti’s choice. “She isn’t exactly a political heavyweight, although she has a national profile,” an office-bearer said.

But a fight against Sonia, said another source, carried its own cachet.

Sushma Swaraj, who stood against the Congress president from Bellary in 1999, makes it a point to mention it in her Twitter profile, adding she polled 3,58,000 votes in 12 days. “Smriti probably hopes it would bring her closer to the Sushma league,” a source said.