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Navjot Sidhu, Arun Jaitley And BJP Revolt

Sutanu Guru goes back in recent past to show how Navjot Sidhu is one of many 'mass' political leaders to quit BJP

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Don't let the headline lead you to misleading conclusions about Arun Jaitley. Though right wing social media warriors love to blame Arun Jaitley for every crisis or incident of bad press that the BJP gets, there has never been any convincing evidence that Arun Jaitley is a Machiavellian insider who has plotted and back stabbed his way to the top. But in politics, perception matters and coincidence often becomes "proof" for those who anyway believe what they want to believe! Coincidence it is that Navjot Singh Sidhu, the only credible Sikh face of the BJP in Punjab, was all set to win the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat for the third consecutive time in 2014. Sidhu had won this seat even in 2009 when the Congress had inflicted a humiliating defeat on the BJP across the country. But as fate would have it, the quintessential "back room boy" Arun Jaitley suddenly wanted to jump into direct electoral politics. And he wanted the "safe" Amritsar seat. Sidhu was tossed aside and it is clear he hasn't forgotten or forgiven that treatment. The irony is that despite the Modi wave, Jaitley lost the election by a huge margin.

It could also be a coincidence that the maverick lawyer-cum-politician Ram Jethmalani transformed from a diehard Modi supporter in 2014 to a sworn enemy now. Today, he is a RJD Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar. Jethmalani makes no bones about his change of heart. He blames Jaitley squarely for ensuring that the Narendra Modi regime fails to keep the promises made to recover black money. It could also be a coincidence that another maverick anti-corruption crusader Subramanian Swamy, now a BJP nominated Rajya Sabha MP makes no bones about his antipathy towards Jaitley. He barely conceals his allegation that Jaitley is part of the old Luytens Delhi establishment that is sabotaging the efforts of Team Modi to transform the system.

If you are find of conspiracy theories, you would blame Jaitley. This author is more intrigued by how the Sidhu revolt is one in a series of BJP revolts where Jaitley has been a player; sometimes in a minor role; sometimes in a major one. Here is a checklist of "mass" BJP leaders who have revolted in the recent past and blamed the "Delhi Durbar" of BJP for their troubles.

1: Babulal Marandi was a mass leader with grassroots appeal who worked wonders for the BJP in South Bihar which is now Jharkhand. In 1998, the BJP won 12 out of 14 seats there and Marandi became a member of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Cabinet. He also became the popular first chief minister of Jharkhand in 2000. But he was removed towards the end of 2003 thanks to inner party politics. After the 2004 Lok Sabha loss, Vajpayee more or less retired from active politics. The party was effectively controlled by L. K. Advani and his two close lieutenants Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj. By the end of 2005, a bitter and frustrated Marandi left the BJP to form his own party.

2: Uma Bharti rode a tidal wave of popularity in December 2003 to win a historic mandate for the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and became the chief minister. Thanks to an obscure case in Karnataka, she was persuaded by the "Delhi" leaders of BJP to quit as CM till her name is cleared. She did. But there was no looking back after that. By 2005, she was virtually in war with leaders like Advani and Jaitley and was sacked from the party towards the end of 2005. Sources close to her still blame Jaitley for her inglorious exit from the BJP.

3: Kalyan Singh was another mass leader of the BJP who couldn't survive in the era of Advani and his Delhi leaders. The first and only BJP leader to win a majority for the party in Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, Singh felt marginalized and sidelined in the 21st century. So disgusted was he with the leadership that he resigned from the BJP in 2009. The party has never found another backward caste mass leader of the stature of Singh in the state.

4: In 2011, Karnataka chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa faced allegations of corruption. Another mass leader with grassroots appeal, he had played a key role in opening the gates for the BJP in the south. It was under him that the BJP won a majority for the first time ever in assembly elections. But Yeddyurappa was first forced to quit as chief minister (the Karnataka High Court has rejected all charges against him) and then humiliated so badly that he was forced to quit. His loyal supporters still bitterly talk about the role of Jaitley and "Delhi" leaders like him.

These are the mass leaders who quit. Two more popular leaders-Vasundhara Raje Scindia and Major General B. C. Khanduri- too had almost revolted and quit. In 2009, the BJP lost the Lok Sabha elections badly. It lost virtually all seats in Rajasthan and Uttarakhand. There was tremendous pressure on Scindia to "take responsibility" and quit as leader of opposition in Rajasthan. Things turned so bitter that there was open talk by 2012 of Scindia leaving the party. Khanduri was forced to resign as Uttarakhand chief minister.

There is one more interesting nugget about the BJP and Jaitley that stands out. For the last 15 or so years, the politicians who have really mattered in the BJP have been Vajpayee, Pramod Mahajan, L. K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari and of course Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Every single one of them has contested and won elections except Jaitley.

All this could perhaps explain why Modi Bhakts are not very fond of Jaitley!

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