BY SOPAN JOSHI
THERE IS a growing feeling in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), that Sushma Swaraj’s interests are on a tangent with those of the party. Going against the judgement of seniors, she first championed the Reddy brothers, tainted by Karnataka’s illegal mining controversy. Now, insiders say, she wants the party to go easy on defending Narendra Modi in the Amit Shah case, arguing the party need not be sacrificed for one individual. Her detractors have always claimed she is at variance with the party’s core agenda — she is the first BJP leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha who does not have a background in the RSS. After becoming leader of opposition in December 2009, she has had the room to assert herself. Several partymen are now asking: at what cost?
Swaraj has argued internally against making too much noise about the Sohrabuddin issue. Overdoing the controversy would mean BJP walking into a Congress trap, and attracting negative attention from the media, she is reported to have said. For a while now, her supporters have heard her cite Modi as her chief party competitor on the national stage. She believes her experience of organising elections at the national level outweighs Modi’s Gujarat-specific appeal.
She recently treated a party senior to statistics to prove that wherever Modi campaigned in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the BJP suffered. She is believed to have stressed that Modi’s presence could not save the party in the 2008 assembly polls in its stronghold Delhi. She, meanwhile, claimed credit for the party’s victory in Madhya Pradesh, even though she was new to the state and the incumbent BJP government faced a strong anti-establishment wave.
While such rivalries are nothing new in a political party, Swaraj is under the scanner for denying Shah what she showered on the Reddys. She left no stone unturned for the Reddys, even though Advani and party chief Nitin Gadkari were engaged in damage control in Karnataka. Swaraj’s proximity to the Reddys began when she contested the 1999 Lok Sabha election from Bellary. It is on her strength that the Reddys have taken on Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa, who came in for rough treatment from Swaraj during his July visit to Delhi; she made it imperative for him to meet Janardhana Reddy. She is said to have told him it was her public appeal, Janardhana’s money and Sriramulu’s hard work which brought him to power.
SHE THEN got four party spokesmen — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prakash Javadekar, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Shahnawaz Hussain — to meet Reddy on 25 July in Hotel Maurya Sheraton, where he was staying. “As party spokesmen, we have to answer media questions. We went to meet them to understand the case. For example, we did not know they don’t have any mines in Karnataka,” Prasad told TEHELKA. A colleague accompanying them informed Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha and Swaraj’s main competitor in Delhi. Jaitley took to task the national spokesmen for going to meet a controversial state minister at his hotel. Advani conveyed his displeasure to Swaraj. When asked, Prasad denied seniors pulling up the spokesmen. Gadkari has had a word with RSS leaders about her. They were already upset over the lead she took in getting the BJP to support the inclusion of caste in the Census. So much so that Suresh Bhaiyaji Joshi, RSS’ second in command, issued a rare press release saying the RSS opposed the move. Then, on 10 August, BJP seniors had agreed to raise in Parliament the scam involving telecom minister A Raja. But Swaraj cancelled it, saying it wasn’t such an urgent issue. Raja is known to be close to the Reddy brothers.