Senior BJP leader Laxmi Kanta Chawla’s outburst against Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not have come at a worse time for the state unit of the party, which is engaged in organising a rally in Gurdaspur on January 3 to be addressed by the Prime Minister.
While Chawla’s remarks appeared to have been a result of the delay caused to the train in which she was travelling and the inadequate facilities available for passengers, party insiders say the timing of the remarks has put the party’s internal fissures in the spotlight. With the state BJP Chief, Shwait Malik, also an Amritsar politician like Chawla, the remarks made by her regarding the PMs policies have especially left Malik embarrassed and in
The factionalism within the party was evident in the past, during the term of Kamal Sharma as state BJP chief and Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Vijay Sampla’s tenure too, but it has continued with renewed vigour in Malik’s tenure with various groups joining hands against him. An open revolt against Malik in Amritsar, his hometown where he has served as Mayor, by district office-bearers also caused unease to the state BJP president.
A senior party leader said it was unfortunate that Chawla spoke out at a time when the BJP cadre was looking forward to the PMs visit with a hope that it would infuse fresh vigour in the party for the 2019 general elections. “One the one hand Chawla’s name is being considered for appointment as a Governor and on the other she is attacking the government at the highest level. Had her intentions been restricted towards train delays she would have restricted her comments to the railway minister, Piyush Goyal. However, the very fact that she has targetted the PM shows that her aim was to upset the party leadership’s applecart in the state,” he said.
Shwait Malik refused to comment on the developments and said Chawla was a “motherly figure”. “I am only clarifying certain things because it is not correct to say that nothing has been done for the past four years of governance by Modiji. If you take Amritsar alone, to which Chawla ji and I belong, then ten new platforms are being added to the railway station andf three new platforms at Chheharta railway station. A new rail link from Amritsar to Mumbai through Rajasthan has also been approved but is pending because the Punjab government has not been able to allot land for the project,” he said.
The 77-year-old Lakshmi Kanta Chawla is known as a fiery politician in the state who has a reputation for speaking her mind. She has also served as health minister and later as social security, women and child development minister in the SAD-BJP government’s tenure from 2007 to 2012.
At the time she represented the Amritsar Central seat in the assembly which was later contested unsuccessfully twice by BJP National Secretary Tarun Chugh in 2012 and 2017. A three time legislator, Chawla has won twice from Amritsar West seat in 1992 and 1997 before moving on to Amritsar Central in 2002 when she lost. She won that seat in 2007 but later moved away from active politics after her term was over.
A strident right wing politician with an MA in Sanskrit, Hindi and English Chawla had taken oath in Sanskrit in the Punjab Vidhan Sabha in 2007 and later again when she was sworn in as a Minister. Known to visit the Attari-Wagah border every Rakshabandhan to tie Rakhi on the wrists of BSF jawans posted on the border, she has never shied away from taking on ikh hardliners in the state during the years of militancy and later, too. She had remarked against the practice of honouring assassins of Indira Gandhi and General A S Vaidya at Golden Temple and had earned the ire of the Dal Khalsa who warned her not to meddle in Sikh affairs. More recently, she targeted Union Minister Smriti Irani over her remarks on women of all age groups wanting to visit Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
During her tenure as a minister, Chawla was known for her rebuffs to those asking for favours. She was known to have refused a government house and preferred to stay in MLAs hostel. A sharp politician, who has never shied away from a sparring bout, Laxmi Kanta Chawla has shown present day BJP leaders in Punjab that she may have retired from active politics but she is not tiredof politics.