Vajpayee’s Lucknow legacy: Rajnath or Narendra Modi? (Sunday Guardian)
MADHAV NALAPAT New Delhi | 1st Mar 2014
Rajnath Singh speaks in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI
he Sunday Guardian was the first to report (weeks before it happened) that Rajnath Singh would succeed Nitin Gadkari as BJP president (Rajnath may be next BJP president, 28 October 2012). Now the Thakur leader from Uttar Pradesh has set his sights on a loftier goal, that of being made the Prime Minister of India in May 2014 "in case the numbers do not permit Narendra Modi to take charge". According to party sources close to the BJP president, Rajnath Singh is "seeking to increase the tickets given to Thakurs in the Hindi belt", including by the expedient of welcoming into the BJP several Thakurs from politics and the civil service. The names of former Home Secretary R.K. Singh and Sushil Singh from Bihar are being mentioned in this context, as also UP leaders Sushil Singh, Jagdambika Pal, Brijbhushan Saran Singh as also Vijay Bahadur Singh from Hamirpur. General V.K. Singh, a favourite as the country's next Raksha Mantri, has a strong base not only among current and former servicemen but within the Thakur community too.
The BJP organisation has come under the control of a troika, comprising Arun Jaitley, organisation secretary Ramlal and Rajnath Singh himself. Whether the bonhomie will last post-poll is another question, as Arun Jaitley is seen as the most likely alternative to Narendra Modi, in view of his close relations with the latter. Besides, Jaitley has excellent contacts with the media as well as with political leaders across the spectrum, although within the BJP, he is not the most popular candidate, despite his low-key and unobtrusive style of functioning. It needs to be reiterated that the basis behind such contingency planning is a post-poll situation where the powerful troika of three lady Chief Ministers, Jayalalithaa, Mamata and Mayawati, may together hold the key to the Prime Ministership. "The calculation of those in the BJP who see themselves as the better choice is that none of the three would like to see a strong PM", which is what Narendra Modi would be.
The deference shown by Amit Shah towards the Jaitley-Rajnath-Ramlal troika is bothering BJP insiders, who are worried about "tickets being given to candidates who would be vulnerable to the Aam Aadmi Party's charges". It needs to be remembered that the BJP in UP has never recovered from the time Rajnath served as CM of the state, nor could it win the 2004 polls under his leadership, despite the presence of A.B. Vajpayee. Indeed, the former PM's political legacy is now coming into focus. Key BJP leaders from UP (where the bulk of seats are expected to go to the saffron party) want Narendra Modi to contest from Vajpayee's Lucknow constituency, which was won by him even in 2004 and carried by his acolyte Lalji Tandon despite the BJP's overall reverses in 2009. "If Modi fights from Lucknow, he will win easily, and be seen as the natural heir to Atalji's legacy," said a top BJP leader.
"If Modi fights from Varanasi, his Hindutva image will get reinforced, whereas in Lucknow he will be seen as closer to the moderate legacy of Vajpayee", a senior BJP leader said, adding that "in the overall context, contesting from the state capital would send a powerful signal of going beyond religious issues into that of overall development", the true strength of Modi. He however added that "the Vajpayee legacy is why Rajnathji wants Lucknow as his constituency. It is learnt that M.M. Joshi is reluctant to shift to Allahabad, as the BJP has been placed at a disadvantage there after its 2009 delimitation and bifurcation. Interestingly, former BJP president Nitin Gadkari (who is close to the RSS) has begun reaching out to the Muslim community, having succeeded in getting control of the Nagpur city corporation with the help of Muslim corporators. "If Gadkari Saheb becomes Home Minister, Muslims will be safe," said a community leader in Nagpur who has recently switched his support from the NCP to the BJP.
BJP insiders say that the Jailtley-Rajnath-Ramlal troika is looking at filling up the list of candidates with those expected to back them in any future post-poll scenario. However, they face two obstacles. The first is Narendra Modi himself, who is known to be preparing dossiers on likely candidates to weed out particular names.
The second obstacle is in the form of four BJP CMs, each of whom will have a major say in candidate selection in their respective states.