Cabinet berth for Kumaramangalam upsets TN BJP
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party's A B Vajpayee won Parliament's cachet for his government on Saturday, undercurrents of disgruntlement are rocking the Bharatiya Janata Party in Tamil Nadu. This time, the ire is over Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, a recent entry to the BJP, walking away not only with a party nomination in the Lok Sabha election but that he was made a Cabinet minister in the new government, whie veterans who built up the party in the state have been sidelined.
Tied to this issue is the question uppermost in the minds of the BJP rank and file: what is the party doing about its future course of action?
"It's an irony that a last-minute entrant like Rangarajan should
have been inducted into the ministry, that too as Cabinet minister,"
said a party leader of long standing. "Leave alone the fact that
even Rajiv Gandhi and P V Narasimha Rao considered him worthy only of an MoS berth, there is always be the nagging doubt about his going back to the Congress and Sonia Gandhi."
The BJP's TN unit was rattled when the national leadership admitted the ex-Congressman, disregarding the raised eyebrows in Tamil Nadu, and even nominated him from Tiruchirappalli after the All India anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's J Jayalalitha refused to concede the Kumaramangalam stronghold of Salem. "Even his electoral victory was owing to the
party tag, and our 'stability' card as he is an outsider to Tiruchi,"
says the above-mentioned leader. But he concedes that Rangarajan did put
all his efforts into the campaign once he gave up his initial
hesitation, and accepted Tiruchi.
But the reservations run deep. Traditional partymen
feel that the BJP was following the 'Congress's ways of honouring
rank outsiders' ignoring the legitimate claims of veterans.
Says a former state party office-bearer: "All of us joined the party
when it was not expected to be anywhere near the power-centre,
leave alone win a Lok Sabha seat from Tamil Nadu. Now we have three MPs,
but the only ministerial post from the state BJP has gone to a former Congressman from a Communist
family! I do not know whether the national leadership wants to
put him on display as an instance of the BJP's greater acceptability,
but we are not impressed."
There is also a groundswell of sympathy in the party for national vice-president
Jana Krishnamurthy and state general secretary Pon Radhakrishnan, both of whom lost the recent election,
Pon Radhakrishnan in particular lost from the communally sensitive
Nagercoil constituency for the third time in a row, albeit improving
the party's electoral standing and political image with every
"Either of them, or any other traditional party leader from the
state should have been considered for a ministerial berth," says
the former officer-bearer. "If the leadership could get national
general secretary M Venkaiah Naidu, a native of Andhra Pradesh,
elected to the Rajya Sabha from neighbouring Karnataka, they could
have extended the same facility to a BJP leader from Tamil Nadu,
and made him minister at the Centre. After all, the Tamil Nadu
voters cast their lot only with the professed public image of
the BJP, and nothing else."
In this context, he also differentiates between the poll defeats
of senior leaders like Jaswant Singh and Pramod Mahajan, and those
of Jana Krishnamurthy and Pon Radhakrishnan, "Jaswant Singh and
Pramod Mahajan lost in states where the BJP is in power, but here
Jana and Radhakrishnan fought against heavy odds."
If not, he adds, "at least Master Madan who has been elected
from Nilgiris, where he had lost
miserably in 1991 and 1996, should have been accommodated. His
turn-around efforts, that too against sitting Tamil Maanila Congress
Minister S R Balasubramaniam, should be applauded."
These internal bickerings apart, the BJP is also faced with pressure from the cadre to decide on
its future course in the state. While conceding
the need for keeping alliance partner AIADMK and its chief Jayalalitha
in good humour, state leaders say the BJP should not lose out
on the initiative gained with the electoral upswing. "There is
a vacuum in Opposition politics in the state, and even after
the poll debacle the TMC is reluctant to take on the ruling DMK
0bviously, we should pitch in quick and fast," says the office-bearer.
There is, however, the other section, which is more pragmatic. "We
require the AIADMK's backing for our government's survival," says
a party leader. "We should not be foolish enough to think that
all the votes we got and all the seats that the alliance won in
the state was caused by the 'Vajpayee magic'. We need to do a
lot more of spade-work, and can take only one step at a time.
To imagine that the BJP can overnight become the ruling party
in the state is over-simplifying the issue."
According to him, the BJP can afford to go slow on its 'expansion
plans' for Tamil Nadu. Even the AIADMK is only in the Opposition
in the state, and the two parties will only be sharing the same
plank and platform. "Either the TMC has to cut itself off completely
from the DMK, or the AIADMK has to go against the people's mandate
and help topple the Vajpayee government. Neither of them seems
close to happening."
To delve into the past, even without power and positions the state
BJP has been riven with factionalism. Some of the early members
of the party like M R Gandhi, who sowed the seeds for the BJP's
growth in the Nagercoil area, are out of it. Even during the crucial
pre-poll talks with the AIADMK, state vice-president Dr V Maithreyan,
who had been maintaining constant contacts with Jayalalitha and
who had been praising her even when it was not due, found himself
"Now with Rangarajan Kumaramangalam inside the party, and is also
being given great importance by the leadership, I would not be
surprised if he starts off with his 'Congress-like' politicking
and setting off faction feuds in the BJP, which had thankfully been without
it in recent years," says a senior office-bearer.
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