BJP grapples with bruised egos

Rajnath wants to be number 2; Advani offered speaker’s post; Gadkari keen to take over from Rajnath if he joins Cabinet; Sushma sulks on the sidelines; Joshi will play along

New Delhi

A core group constituted by Narendra Modi was on Thursday grappling with bruised egos and their tall demands. Several senior BJP leaders want to extract their pound of flesh -– for instance, it is understood, Rajnath Singh has sought the post of the deputy prime minister as a reward for  services rendered during the election campaign.

Sources said Singh has also made it clear that he will not join the Union cabinet and rather remain the party president if he cannot be accommodated as the ‘number 2’ in the NDA government. He also wants the plum Home portfolio: the precedent being cited is that of Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had given his number two L K Advani the Union Home Ministry.

Former party chief Nitin Gadkari has already parked himself on the sidelines and staked claim to the post of party president, in case Rajnath Singh accepts the offer to join the Union Cabinet.

Among the old guard, while M. M. Joshi has fallen in line, L K Advani is not revealing his mind. The RSS wanted to placate Advani by offering him the post of Lok Sabha Speaker — in any case, he is qualified to be the pro-tem Speaker since he is the longest serving member of Parliament -– but the wily leader is not ready to play along and will reveal his cards after the results are out.

Modi has not yet revealed his mind on the matter either but would surely prefer a young and a small ministry. Sources said he would also like Advani to relinquish the post of the working chairman of NDA, so that there are no two centres of power. Ideally, Modi would like to keep the post for himself.

The other leader, who has been in perpetual sulk since the election campaign started, is Sushma Swaraj. She has reportedly gone to Bhopal and may skip the BJP parliamentary board meeting. Interestingly, Advani has been asked to talk sense to his protégé who is adamant that she be given a portfolio commensurate with her seniority – Home, Finance, Defence or External Affairs.

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah took a jibe at the turn of events in the BJP and tweeted, “I’ve heard of bruised egos during government formation but it must be a new record to have to deal with them even before counting has started.”

BJP general secretary Amit Shah on Thursday positioned himself as Modi’s representative in the BJP-RSS talks on formation of government. He was present at a 3-hour long meeting at the residence of Rajnath Singh which was attended by RSS functionaries.

Shah later called on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat. Modi will take over from Shah in the final stage of talks and may hold a one-to-one meeting with Bhagwat on Saturday.

Modi flies into Delhi on Saturday morning and will be taken to the BJP headquarters at Ashoka Road in a ceremonial procession from the airport. The BJP’s Central Parliamentary Board will be meeting later in the afternoon to put its stamp on the final shape of the government.

The most crucial decision the board has to take is about the role of Advani in the new scenario. Joshi has indicated to both RSS chief Bhagwat and Rajnath Singh that he is game for a respectable position. He may join the union cabinet or even become the Lok Sabha Speaker if Advani says ‘no’, party sources said. Alternatively, he will be happy with the HRD portfolio.

Gadkari and some other senior leaders are busy contacting leaders of various political parties to solicit their support in the eventuality of the BJP-led NDA falling short of the 272 seats.

BJP vice-president and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti also arrived in Delhi on Thursday and was tasked with the job of placating Advani.

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