Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari here on Saturday defended senior leader Arun Jaitley, a day after Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj virtually started an all-out war in the party's top echelons by suggesting some senior party leaders, including Mr. Jaitley, could have had a role in inducting three family members of the Reddy brothers as Ministers in the Karnataka government.

This is the second time in a few months that Mr. Gadkari has virtually ticked off Ms. Swaraj. The first was during the controversy over the appointment (later quashed) of P.J. Thomas as the Chief Vigilance Commissioner when he publicly differed with Ms. Swaraj's line that the issue should be treated as closed after the Supreme Court had quashed the appointment and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had regretted the misjudgement in the case.

To the BJP's discomfort, the internal feud in the party has surfaced less than a week ahead of the party's crucial national executive committee meeting in Lucknow, which was to be its show of strength before the U.P. Assembly elections due next year.

Ms. Swaraj's attack on Mr. Jaitley in an interview toOutlookmagazine could not have been more direct. She said: “When the Bellary brothers were made Ministers, Jaitleyji was prabhari [in-charge of political affairs in Karnataka], B.S. Yeddyurappa was the Chief Minister, Venkaiah [Venkaiah Naidu] and Ananth Kumar were there as senior leaders. Whatever discussion happened, happened among them. I was opposed to three members of a family being made Ministers. But they had some political compulsions which made them appoint the brothers.”

In response to this, Mr. Gadkari stated that Mr. Yeddyurappa had selected his team of Ministers in consultation with the party's central and State leaders. “There is absolutely no question of any individual or individuals influencing this process in any particular manner. Any debate about the choice of ministers in the Karnataka government at this stage in the media is totally unnecessary.” He added that the choice of Ministers in Karnataka was the “unanimous choice of the party, both central as well as the State.”

Talking toThe Hinduover telephone from Hubli, the former party president, Rajnath Singh, said he as the then party president had taken certain decisions related to Karnataka — not Ms. Swaraj — and he had appointed Arun Jaitley as the party's political affairs in-charge prior to the last Assembly elections and sent him to Bangalore ahead of government-making in the State as the party expected some difficulties. He confirmed Ms. Swaraj's pronouncement in the interview that she had stepped in to try and resolve the crisis in the State in 2009 only after he requested her to do so.

No rift: Rajnath

Mr. Singh denied any rift between Mr. Jaitley and Ms. Swaraj although he himself had a run-in with Mr. Jaitley weeks ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha election when Mr. Jaitley opposed the appointment of Sudhanshu Mittal as co-prabhari in Assam. At that time, in protest Mr. Jaitley stayed away from the party's central election committee.

Apparently, during an internal party meeting, Ms. Swaraj reportedly said she would not oppose dropping the Reddy brothers from the State Council of Ministers as she was opposed to three of a family being given ministerial berths. While G. Karunakara Reddy and G. Janardhan Reddy are Ministers, Somasekhar Reddy enjoys ministerial status and a fourth relative B. Sriramulu is also a Minister. The point she was making was that she was not the one protecting the Reddys. Party insiders said this amounted to daring the party to drop the Reddys for the general perception in the party is that if the Reddys are touched, the Karnataka government will fall.

While Ms. Swaraj did not spell out the BJP's “political compulsions” in the interview, it is no secret in the party that the Reddy brothers contributed a hefty amount towards the party's election campaign in Karnataka and they were allowed to field more than 20 candidates of their choice in constituencies around Bellary.

It is common knowledge that Mr. Jaitley and Ms. Swaraj are rivals within the party for the “top position,” the party's prime ministerial candidate in 2014 although in her interview she spoke of cooperation and coordination between them and denied any differences.