Senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who wanted to contest the “last election” of his political career from Barmer in Rajasthan has been denied his wish. The BJP has instead given the ticket to former Congress leader Sona Ram Chaudhary, who joined the party only a few days ago.
Signalling a rift within the party, the BJP’s decision to allot ticket to an ‘outsider’ also indicated that Jaswant may contest as an independent in the elections as he had threatened. He has represented BJP in Parliament since 1980 with five terms in Rajya Sabha and four terms in Lok Sabha.
The announcement of ticket to Sona Ram was met with angry protests by BJP workers in Barmer. Effigies of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje were burnt and Narendra Modi’s posters were torn down. Local leaders were miffed as they said they have been campaigning against Sona Ram for almost two decades, and asked how can they back him now.
As the controversy erupted, Sona Ram said he would reach out to Jaswant and seek his support. Jaswant did not react after the party’s decision, but denial of ticket meant an unsavoury controversy where the party old guard has been pushed to the edge. L K Advani was miffed by the way seat selection was forced on him, while M M Joshi has already been asked to shift his seat from Varanasi to Kanpur. Yaswant Sinha bowed out of the contest as ticket was given to his son for the elections. The party announced Sona Ram’s name for the Barmer seat on Friday, though he had joined the BJP in Raje’s presence only on Tuesday. Raje was pushing for the Jat leader’s name as she saw a better bet in him over Jaswant with whom she does not have the best of relations.
Jaswant had won the last elections from Darjeeling in 2009 and wanted to shift to his hometown and had publicly stated his wish to contest the elections from Barmer. But, the State leadership saw Sona Ram as a winnable candidate.
However, Sona Ram’s track record and Barmer’s political history present an interesting contradiction. During the last Assembly elections in 2013, the 72-year-old had contested as a Congress candidate and lost to 40-year-old BJP MLA Kailash Chaudhary from Baytoo constituency. Sona Ram had earlier won Lok Sabha elections from Barmer in 1996, 1998, and 1999, finally losing to BJP’s Manvendra Singh in 2004.
Manvendra Singh, currently a BJP MLA, is Jaswant Singh’s son.