The race among the senior leadership of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Punjab to stake claim to the post of state president has intensified with reports emanating that the incumbent state unit chief, Shwait Malik, may be replaced soon.
The strife-ridden state unit has lately seen several unpleasant incidents where either there has been a physical brawl between the members of the various factions in the party or leaders at ground level have quit after being sidelined.
Sources within the BJP reveal that former state president and also a former MLA, Ashwini Sharma is among the top contenders along with former state minister Anil Joshi, and Tarun Chugh, a national secretary of the party.
Also in the fray are Rakesh Rathore, a former Mayor of Jalandhar and a general secretary of the party’s state unit at present and Praveen Bansal, also a state general secretary and a former senior deputy Mayor of Ludhiana. He has fought two Assembly elections in the past and lost both. Another name being spoken of for the post of state president is Narinder Parmar, former district president of Pathankot for 10 years and vice-president of the BJP state unit.
“There are several individuals who have been claiming within the party circles that they will succeed Malik. However, there has not been any official indication from the party high command,” said a senior BJP leader.
Another state leader said that Chugh, being a national secretary who now operates from New Delhi, is considered close to the party leadership at national level, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister and BJP national president Amit Shah. “He is from Amritsar as is Malik. It remains to be seen if two consecutive presidents from same region and city will be chosen,” said a leader.
While the loyalists of Rathore have also been claiming that his name is through for the post, the RSS leadership in the state is learnt to have recommended the name of a Sikh, Manjit Singh Rai, who belongs to Zira. Rai is a member of the National Commission of Minorities and has held various appointments within the state unit of BJP, including the state president of Yuva Morcha, president of Kisan Morcha, state general secretary and state vice president.
While Sharma and Chugh are considered to be older and well established leaders of the party, Parmar, Rathore and Bansal are considered to be the “new” leadership which is coming up.
Former state president, Kamal Sharma, was also actively trying for another stint but he died following a heart attack on Diwali last month.
There have been several ugly scenes witnessed lately within the party’s office bearers, which have not gone down well with the BJPs high command, say sources. A fight broke out in Jalandhar recently between supporters of former minister Manoranjan Kalia and those close to Rathore.
This fight was preceded by another brawl between BJP workers who exchanged fisticuffs on behalf of their leaders. There had also been a revolt of several local BJP leaders in Amritsar, including senior mandal presidents and councilors, and even during the Assembly by-elections in Phagwara in October, there had been defections from the party to the Congress.