The Babu Singh Kushwaha factor, which contributed to the Bharatiya Janata Party's rout in the recent Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls, dominated the proceedings to mark Laxmikant Bajpayee taking over as the new State unit chief on Monday. Differences were clearly evident as senior leaders blamed indirectly the Central leadership for its decision to induct the former Minister.
Even as it became increasingly clear that the BJP was yet to get over the Kushwaha episode, senior leaders sought to give a clean chit to the outgoing State unit president, Surya Pratap Shahi, who “was not alone responsible for the party's defeat in the Assembly elections”.
The Kushwaha issue was set in motion by Mr. Shahi himself as he made his displeasure known over allegations pertaining to his role in inducting the former BSP Minister. Welcoming his successor, Mr. Shahi said he should not be blamed for the decision to induct Mr. Kushwaha. Without naming BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Mr. Shahi said: “I came to know only after two hours of the meeting (at Mr. Gadkari's residence) that Babu Singh Kushwaha was being taken in”, the outgoing party chief said. He said that he was under intense pressure but the pressure had eased now that Mr. Bajpayee has taken over.
Taking the issue forward, the former leader of the BJP Legislature Party, Om Prakash Singh, said he was present in the meeting, but only “our views were taken”. “After about two hours of the meeting, Vinay Katiyar came to me and said that it had been decided to induct Kushwaha.
Mr. Singh, who is also a former UP BJP president, was categorical that “the central leadership's decision went against the party, which was later accepted by the leadership that the party suffered on account of the Kushwaha issue”. “Only one person (Mr. Shahi) should not be blamed for the party's defeat in the polls”, Mr. Singh said and added that it would have been better if Mr. Shahi had not been changed.
BJP vice-president Vinay Katiyar appeared unfazed at the criticism of the central leadership. Stating that he was not required give explanations “as all the leaders present here were present in Mr. Gadkari's meeting”, Mr. Katiyar glossed over the Kushwaha experiment. He claimed that “the BJP's vote percentage in Bundelkhand went up by 7 per cent”. (Mr. Kushwaha belongs to the Bundelkhand regin of the State).
Senior leader Kalraj Mishra, who was the chairman of the party's election campaign committee, too backed Mr. Shahi and said that only one person should not be held responsible for the defeat. “ Like victory, defeat should also be a collective responsibility, we all are responsible for party's poor showing in the polls, many factors contribute to a party's dismal performance”, the MLA from Lucknow East said.
When finally his turn came to speak, Mr. Bajpayee, after witnessing the sparring between the senior party satraps, had to acknowledge pains taken by his predecessor who spared no efforts to galvanise the party for the Assembly elections. Exhorting the workers that they should not be disillusioned after the poll outcome, he said going by the month-long performance of the Samajwadi Party Government it was clear that enough opportunities would come in the way of the BJP for launching a struggle against the Government.