Factional feuds at the very top of the Bharatiya Janata Party — L.K. Advani versus Rajnath Singh; Rajnath Singh versus Arun Jaitley; Jaswant Singh versus Vasundhara Raje; Jaitley versus Sushma Swaraj — were discussed at the just-concluded chintan baithak of the party at Shimla without mentioning any name.

Party leaders pointed out that even as the process for the 2009 Lok Sabha started with the selection of candidates, the message went out to the cadre that president Rajnath Singh and his senior-most general secretary Arun Jaitley were fighting it out in the open. Again, although no names were mentioned, everyone at the ‘baithak’ knew who was in the line of fire.

One of the 24 leaders, who participated in the three-day conclave which ended on Friday, told The Hindu that it was said that it was now the worst-kept secret in the party that the top leaders were engaged in eroding one another’s authority.

One leader said that it was totally unacceptable that a general secretary should have boycotted the central election committee meetings protesting against a small job given to a functionary. And this protest was seen by the people and the cadre as one against the president.

With this kind of atmosphere at the top, it was not surprising that factional feuds erupted in the States, it was pointed out.

Even as delegates started arriving in Shimla on the evening of August 18, some leaders let it be known that the party must first deal with the Jaswant Singh-Jinnah episode – the Jinnah book had been launched in Delhi the evening before.

Over breakfast on August 19 some leaders went to the extent of telling Mr. Rajnath Singh that if the party invited Mr. Jaswant Singh to participate in the baithak they would walk out. It was at that point that Mr. Rajnath Singh telephoned Mr. Jaswant Singh staying in a different hotel that it would be better if he did not come to the meeting.

“The meeting of the Parliamentary Board that decided to expel Mr. Jaswant Singh only took a few minutes to come to a unanimous decision. General secretary Ananth Kumar was the first to speak followed by others. No one spoke against the general mood which was to expel Mr. Jaswant Singh,” Members felt that they had had enough of his books and that it took the party months to recover from his proposition in another book “A Call to Honour’ that there was a “mole” in the Prime Minister’s Office of Narasimha Rao who was leaking India’s nuclear secrets. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh challenges us [the BJP] to produce the proof, but we could not,” a delegate to the baithak said on condition of anonymity.

The election campaign being hijacked by just one slogan —‘mazboot neta’ (strong leader, that is, Mr. Advani) — to the exclusion of other issues flagged by the party also came in for criticism, as did Varun Gandhi’s hate speech in Pilibhit and the failure of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to enthuse people outside his own State.

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