A day after L K Advani was forced to climb down from his position over the choice of Lok Sabha constituency, the BJP snubbed the patriarch’s loyalist and veteran leader Jaswant Singh, denying him the ticket from his home turf of Barmer in Rajasthan.
Former Congress leader and new entrant to the BJP, Col Sonaram Choudhary, will be the party’s candidate from the seat.
The announcement triggered a spontaneous backlash in Barmer, where Jaswant’s supporters raised slogans against the BJP, ripped posters of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, and burnt Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in effigy.
The local BJP office remained closed all day as party workers gathered at Sheo MLA and Jaswant’s son Manvendra Singh’s house.
Jaswant’s aides maintained that he would contest as an independent from the seat, and file his nomination on March 24. They said that Jaswant, who was in Delhi on Friday, was expected to reach Barmer on Sunday and take a final call.
In Delhi, the party leadership appeared unfazed over the possibility of Jaswant turning rebel. “He is not Advani,” was the cryptic reaction from a party functionary when asked about Jaswant’s rebellious mood.
Party leaders in Rajasthan expressed confidence that Jaswant would ultimately back down, and even if he files his nomination, would eventually withdraw. A senior BJP leader said Jaswant had been assured that the party had long-term plans for his son — they had, indeed, taken care of him in the Assembly elections, the leader said, but considering caste equations, a Jat leader (Sonaram) had to be given the Lok Sabha ticket.
Jaswant had been expelled from the party after the electoral debacle of 2009, ostensibly because a book he had authored was seen as eulogising Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Rajnath Singh was the BJP president at that time as well. However, 10 months later, under pressure from Advani, the next president, Nitin Gadkari, brought Jaswant back.
The denial of the Barmer ticket is seen as a joint decision of Rajnath and Vasundhara. The chief minister has been at loggerheads with Jaswant for the past several years, and is thought to have been adamant on Sonaram’s candidature.
Jaswant had been among those who paved the way for Vasundhara becoming chief minister in 2004. By the end of her tenure, however, the two had fallen out. During the Gurjjar-Meena clashes, several leaders including Jaswant and Kirodi Lal Meena took strong exception to Vasundhara’s alleged high-handedness. As the rift widened, the state government initiated a probe into a ceremony at Jaswant’s Jasol residence, where opium was alleged to have been served.
Should Jaswant ultimately contest as an independent candidate, the fight among sitting Congress MP Harish Choudhary, Sonaram and him is likely to be close. The Barmer seat, which covers Barmer and Jaisalmer, has nearly 40 per cent Rajput and minority votes, the bulk of which could go to Jaswant. The 25 per cent Jat vote could be split between Sonaram and Choudhary.
Sources said Vasundhara could visit Barmer to campaign for Sonaram. The BJP on Friday also declared the candidatures of Manoj Rajoriya for Karauli-Dholpur, Sanwarmal Jat for Ajmer and P P Choudhary for Pali.