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BJP in election mode

Neena Vyas

The initiative is to ensure that the party moves into election year as one entity: senior leader

Sushma Swaraj to coordinate party’s efforts to get new allies ahead of the Lok Sabha election

NEW DELHI: With roughly 15 months left for the next general election and 9 assembly elections due from now to the Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has signalled it is in election mode.

A 19-member central election management committee has been set up with BJP president Rajnath Singh in the chair. The decision was apparently firmed up at a meeting between Mr. Rajnath Singh and Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani on Monday.

The “informal group” of Mr. Advani’s camp followers in the party that had met 11 days ago, on December 29, at Mr. Advani’s residence to discuss the next Lok Sabha election and other State Assembly elections has been replaced by the 19-member committee that party leaders see as being more “balanced.”

Senior party leaders such as Yashwant Sinha, Gopinath Munde, Bal Apte and others who had been left out by Mr. Advani have been included in the management committee. Sudheendra Kulkarni, who had resigned as office-bearer of the BJP and from the party membership following the 2005 “Jinnah is secular’ episode and whose presence at the December 29 meeting had party leaders raise eyebrows, has been left out.

Senior leaders said on Tuesday that the effort was to ensure that the party moved into election year as one entity, not as a divided house. “If in 1998 and 1999, Mr. Advani was heading the election management committee and Mr. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime ministerial candidate, in 2008 when Mr. Advani has been declared as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Mr. Singh is chairing the committee,” a leader said.

Committee members

The committee includes leaders such as Murli Manohar Joshi, Yashwant Sinha, Bal Apte, Ramlal, Gopinath Munde, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Vinay Katiyar, who are not favoured by Mr. Advani, and others such as Jaswant Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Venkaiah Naidu, Vijay Kumar Malhotra and Arun Shourie, who are seen as close to Mr. Advani.

All six general secretaries, including Arun Jaitley and Thawarchand Gehlot, are on the committee. The seventh position of general secretary is vacant with Om Mathur recently appointed Rajasthan state president.

Ms. Sushma Swaraj has been asked to coordinate the party’s efforts to get new allies ahead of the Lok Sabha election. To this end, the party would hold state-wise meetings to ask senior state unit leaders what alliances were possible. “Of course, the central party here can always overrule the State unit,” Ms. Swaraj said. She also disclosed that George Fernandes, the Janata Dal (United) leader, will continue to function as the NDA convenor. When it was pointed out to her that Mr. Fernandes no longer enjoyed the trust and confidence of even his own party, not to speak of other NDA partners, Ms. Swaraj said that nobody from the JD (U) had objected to Mr. Fernandes continuing as convener.

On the Trinamool Congress Party remaining within the NDA, Ms. Swaraj said party president Mamta Banerjee had not conveyed to the BJP that she wanted her party to drop out of the NDA.

A meeting of NDA Chief Ministers and party presidents is expected to be called between January 22 and 25 to discuss cooperation between the BJP and its alliance partners, Ms. Swaraj said.

The BJP itself is planning to hold one major rally in each of the State capitals before the end of March to be addressed by Mr. Advani and Mr. Singh. The responsibility for coordinating with State units for the rally programme has been entrusted to Ananth Kumar. “Our effort would be directed towards retaining the States we rule — Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan — and snatching power in other States like Delhi and Karnataka,” Ms. Swaraj said.