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November 9, 1999
Ram Prakash Gupta to replace Kalyan Singh
Sharad Pradhan in Lucknow
The Bhartiya Janata Party took everyone by surprise on Tuesday when it named party veteran Ram Prakash Gupta as the new chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Confirming this, Gupta told mediapersons, "the offer came to me from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee himself this afternoon and I have been asked to reach New Delhi tonight to attend a party meeting at 8.30 PM."
The decision to this effect was taken at a meeting at the residence of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajapyee in Delhi today. Besides Vajpayee, party president Kushabhau Thakre and Union Home Minister L K Advani also attended the meeting.
Born on October 26, 1924, Gupta is a gold medallist and a postgraduate in science from Allahabad University.
He joined politics immediately after graduation and was elected to the UP Vidhan Sabha from Lucknow (central) four times.
The decision to remove Kalyan Singh was taken by the party bigwigs on Monday itself, but their failure to arrive at a consensus on the choice of a successor left everyone guessing. While the names of several contenders were doing the rounds in political circles the BJP central leadership sprung a big surprise by selecting the dark horse for the hot seat.
Kalyan Singh's ouster had been on the cards following the party's debacle at the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections when the BJP tally plummeted to a paltry 29 as against 57 in the previous election in 1998.
The announcement about the change of guard in Lucknow was made while Kalyan Singh was away in Ayodhya, where he flew down this morning. Singh made a scathing attack on his party for "ignoring the Ram temple issue." Clearly he was trying to make a hero of himself by using the temple issue as a cover for his outright belligerence against the party leadership.
Addressing a press conference in Ayodhya he rebelliously declared, "the BJP did not do the right thing by just forgetting about the Ayodhya temple; I am committed to ensuring construction of the temple and it is my cherished dream to see the Ram temple in its magnificence before I die." He went on to add, "I know that I would be punished for what I am saying about the Ram temple but I stand committed to the cause of the temple."
Admitting that he was aware of the party's decision to replace him, he said, "I will step down once Mr Vajpayee or any of his envoys formally tell me to do so."
Meanwhile, Gupta's humble apartment in Lucknow's narrow Park Lane turned into a hub of frenetic activity. The 75-year-old BJP veteran had first shot into the limelight in 1967, when he was made UP's deputy chief minister in the state's first non-Congress coalition government under the late Charan Singh. He was the state's industry minister in the Janata Party regime of 1977. Thereafter, apart from getting elected to the state assembly once, he remained virtually in political oblivion until 1993, when he got elected once again.
Yet, no significant position was offered to him until last year when he was nominated as deputy chairman of the state planning commission, a position he holds currently. He is not a member of either house of the legislature at present. Naturally, he will have to get elected to the lower house within six months of assuming the new office.
Though it is believed in political circles that he was handpicked by none other than Vajpayee himself, Gupta told inquisitive mediapersons, "well it is my one-to-one rapport with all shades of partymen that has got me this reward."
He denied having done any lobbying for himself. "Some of my supporters had been asking me to go to Delhi to plead my own case , but I have never been the lobbying type," he said, adding, "yet I sometimes had this gut feeling that I may be considered for the job though I refrained from talking about this to anybody."
Asked how he felt upon receiving the offer, the chief minister-designate admitted candidly, "I know it is not a bed of roses but I will accept this challenge. My priority will be to recover the lost zeal and commitment in the ordinary party worker." He further said, "I will also make it a point to curb the growing commercialisation of politics." Brave promises and good intentions, but only time will tell about their getting effectively implemented.
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