Upset over not being projected as Bharatiya Janata Party's chief ministerial candidate for the Delhi assembly polls, Vijay Goel on Sunday staked his claim for the position before the party's top leadership and indicated his opposition against any move to declare Harsh Vardhan's name for it.
Sources said Goel met BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, party chief Rajnath Singh, leader of opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and former party chief Nitin Gadkari and projected his case for the party's chief ministerial candidate in Delhi saying that he had worked hard to strengthen BJP in the last eights months.
He also opposed any move to project senior leader Harsh Vardhan as the party's candidate for chief ministership and said such a move would demoralise party's workers at the grass-roots level.
The sources said Goel conveyed to the leadership that it will be difficult for him to work with "equal vigour" if he is ignored and Harsh Vardhan is made the chief ministerial candidate.
The sources said Goel referred to results of various opinion polls in the last couple of months and said all the surveys have projected him as the most popular choice as BJP's CM candidate.
Goel met the party leaders at BJP's headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road in Central Delhi where some of his supporters shouted slogans demanding that the Delhi unit of the party should be made the CM candidate.
Sources close to Goel said he had impressed upon the party leadership to make realise the ground realities and take a decision on announcing the chief ministerial candidate to take on incumbent Sheila Dikshit.
Sources said some of the central leaders, who attended Sunday's election committee meeting, expressed disappointment over the way the party was being run in Delhi under Goel's presidentship and favoured projection of Harsha Vardhan as its chief ministerial candidate.
They said shouting of slogans in favour of Goel by his supporters when the Election Committee meeting was going on also angered some leaders.
Sources close to Goel said he will resist any move to project Vardhan as chief ministerial candidate but added that he will not quit the presidentship over the issue.
Goel is understood to have threatened to quit his post four days back if Vardhan was elevated to the top position.
The rift over the issue in Delhi BJP has threatened to derail the party's campaign to dethrone the Sheila Dikshit government and return to power after a gap of four years.
A number of senior Delhi leaders of the party have already conveyed to central leaders their "deep anguish" over the "tone and tenor" of Goel's comments at a press conference last week projecting himself as BJP's popular face for CM.
"Opinion polls projected me against Sheila Dikshit. Look at the results of the opinion polls. My party is ahead and so am I," Goel had said at the press conference rejecting reports that Vardhan was a front runner.
A number of senior Delhi leaders have also conveyed to Delhi election in-charge Nitin Gadkari that Goel has violated party discipline by openly projecting himself as chief ministerial candidate and indicating that he will not be happy if someone else was chosen for the position.
Gadkari has maintained that the BJP Parliamentary Board will take a final decision on the issue. The parliamentary board is likely to meet in next two-three days.
A number of senior Delhi leaders are understood to have conveyed to the party leadership that they should announce the candidature of Vardhan who is believed to have wider acceptability among people, party leaders and workers.
Party sources said leaders including L K Advani, Modi, Swaraj and Ananth Kumar are in favour of declaring Vardhan as candidate for the top post.
They said the leadership is seriously concerned over the atmosphere in the party in the wake of the race for the chief ministerial candidature.
They argued that Vardhan, a former Delhi minister and senior party leader, has a clean image and that he would be able to put up a united fight to dethrone the Congress dispensation.
The central leadership of BJP feels Delhi assembly elections are crucial ahead of Lok Sabha elections and the party cannot afford to lose it for the fourth time in a row.
The stakes for the party are high in view of the campaign being mounted for 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
Photograph Courtesy: Vijay Goel's Facebook page