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|October 10, 1998||
PM suggested Swaraj as a compromise
George Iype in New Delhi
The growing rift in the Delhi unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party forced the leadership to sack Chief Minister Sahib Singh Verma and appoint Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj in his place.
Swaraj, the first woman to head the Delhi government, emerged as a compromise candidate after Verma and his predecessor, Madan Lal Khurana, now Union parliamentary affairs minister, fought bitterly for the right to lead the party to the polls next month.
"The clash between Verma and Khurana is the main reason for Sushmaji's selection as the party's chief ministerial candidate for the elections," a Delhi BJP leader confided in Rediff On The NeT.
"The rift between Verma and Khurana has virtually ruined our prospects in Delhi," he said. "The party could not go to the polls with the growing disunity between two senior leaders."
BJP sources said the proposal to appoint Swaraj, member of Parliament from South Delhi, was made by Vajpayee himself. The prime minister felt Verma's government had failed miserably to combat the growing crime and rising prices in the capital.
But BJP president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' Thakre was against axing the chief minister. Verma enjoys a good rapport with Thakre.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh also backed his continuance as chief minister.
But Khurana, who had led the party to victory in the 1993 assembly elections, was adamant that Verma be replaced.
Khurana had been forced to resign as chief minister in 1995 after he was named in the Jain havala (illegal foreign exchange dealings) scandal. Though his name was later cleared, Verma had refused to make way for his return.
The BJP has 49 MLAs in the Delhi Legislative Assembly. Khurana is said to have the support of at least 25 of them. He has therefore been demanding Verma's ouster and his reinstatement.
But the Verma faction resents Khurana. So the chief minister gave in to the choice of Swaraj, if only to stymie his rival.
The rift between Verma and Khurana has its genesis in the 1993 elections when the two bigwigs fought hard to secure party tickets for their supporters. The clash became so severe at one stage that there was violence at the party's central office.
Supporters of one ticket aspirant, Shish Pal Vidhuri, hurled abuse and flowerpots at Om Prakash Kohli, then president of the Delhi BJP and a Verma supporter. Vidhuri, who belongs to the Khurana camp, later contested the Timarpur seat as an independent and won.
Sensing that the squabbles within the party were once again reaching a flashpoint with the elections fast approaching, Vajpayee and Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani had been planning a change in leadership for some time now.
Many believe the Verma-Khurana fight is merely a symptom of a deeper conflict between hardcore RSS men and the moderates within the Delhi unit of the BJP.
Swaraj's appointment will certainly give the faction-ridden party a new face in the elections. It also shows the prime minister's growing control over the party's preparations for the crucial assembly elections.
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