NEW DELHI : The split between the old and new guard of India’s hardline Hindu opposition, tipped to win national elections, burst open Monday after it refused to field one of the party’s founders in the polls.
Jaswant Singh, 76, who served as both foreign and finance minister in a previous Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, announced he would stand as an independent from his home state of Rajasthan in northwestern India. Singh, who helped establish the BJP, said the party had become undemocratic and obsessed with Narendra Modi, the party’s controversial prime ministerial candidate.
“There is more arrogance and less taking everyone along,” Singh told reporters in the district of Barmer, where he had hoped to run for the BJP, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The BJP is expected to trounce the scandal-tainted Congress government, which has been in power for a decade.
, in the elections due to kick off next month with results due in mid-May.
Singh’s statement came after the BJP refused to let him stand as the party’s candidate in Barmer. “Even a peon (a menial worker) isn’t treated the way I was by the BJP,” said Singh, adding he felt “betrayed and cheated”. He said the denial of a ticket had been a “huge humiliation”, and suggested it was up to the party to decide whether he would remain in the fold.
“They can sack me,” he said, saying the party’s president Rajnath Singh had promised him he could run in Barmer, and then reneged. “The betrayal is not with Jaswant Singh alone but with the BJP’s principles,” he said. Frustration has been building among the BJP’s older members at what they see as the high-handedness of Modi and his team in running the party.
A BJP spokesman told AFP that Singh had not resigned, but local media reported his exit from the party. Singh is the latest in a string of BJP senior figures to be disappointed in their quest for a constituency. Veteran BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi was asked by the party not to seek re-election from his constituency in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi as Modi wants to run from there.
Modi’s choice of Varanasi is loaded with symbolism given his background as a Hindu hardliner. Former deputy BJP prime minister L.K. Advani finally agreed to run in a constuency in Modi’s stronghold of Gujarat, after local reports said he wanted to contest from the central state of Madhya Pradesh.
Advani, 86, a party heavyweight who helped propel the BJP’s rise, had feared he might not get enough support from the party machine in Gujarat, due to his strained relations with Modi. Modi, 63, is widely expected to displace long-serving BJP members and install his own team if he becomes premier.
Modi, the chief minister of western Gujarat state, has portrayed himself as a pro-business reformer and a champion of economic development who can turn around India’s slumping economy. Modi has consistently denied allegations he failed to do enough to halt 2002 riots in Gujarat while he was chief minister when over 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were hacked, burnt and shot to death.