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Monday, October 12, 1998
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Sushma elected Delhi BJP leader
Swearing in today
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 11 — With the Delhi Assembly poll just 40 days away, Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj was today unanimously elected leader of the Delhi Legislature BJP.

Ms Swaraj’s name was proposed by the outgoing Chief Minister, Mr Sahib Singh Verma, and seconded by senior party leader Ram Bhaj at a 20-minute meeting held at the BJP headquarters at Ashok Road this evening.

She is likely to be sworn in as the new Chief Minister of Delhi tomorrow.

This was announced by party general secretary and in-charge of Delhi affairs, Mr Venkaiah Naidu. "The Delhi BJP president, Mr Mange Ram Garg, will meet Delhi’s Lt-Governor, Mr Vijai Kapoor today to inform him about the election of the leader," he said.

The crucial meeting today was held after two days high voltage drama in which Mr Sahib Singh Verma initially refused to step down and even Ms Swaraj expressed her reluctance to take over. She would be the first woman Chief Minister of Delhi.

Earlier in the morning, Mr Sahib Singh Verma tendered his resignation to the Lt-Governor. Mr Verma had almost revolted against the decision of the party high command yesterday. He had refused to step down as the Chief Minister despite Mr Venkaiah Naidu making the announcement that he had done so.

It was only after some concrete assurances from the Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, that Mr Verma agreed to step down, saving the "disciplined" BJP from an embarrassing situation. According to Mr Verma himself, the Prime Minister had now assured him of a berth in the Union Cabinet.

"I did not press for any berth, but Mr Vajpayee has assured me that I would be a Cabinet minister in the next expansion," Mr Verma said. Incidentally, Mr Verma is a hardcore RSS worker and had the strong backing of the cadre.

While the party’s decision to ease out Mr Verma was also being seen as a no-confidence of the high command in its own government in Delhi, the compromise reached on Ms Swaraj also saved the BJP from embarrassment from the Verma camp.

Although the high command earlier wanted to install Mr Madan Lal Khurana as the new Chief Minister, he was said to be reluctant to take over the charge at the last moment. An internal assessment made by the BJP had pointed to the fact that if it fought the forthcoming assembly elections under Mr Verma, even its stronghold, Delhi, would be in danger of falling.

This brought about a serious thinking and the move to remove Mr Verma as the Chief Minister. Reports said that the changeover would have been simpler had the Union Cabinet expansion taken place on time. It would have been easier to bring around Mr Verma by making him a Cabinet minister and installing Mr Khurana as the Chief Minister.

Mr Khurana, who had resigned as the Chief Minister of Delhi in the aftermath of the Jain hawala case, earlier wanted to be reinstated after being cleared of all charges last year. But with the passage of time, he had become reluctant. However, he was still known to have said that he would go by the decision of the high command.

After being elected, Ms Sushma Swaraj told newspersons that the BJP would return to power with more seats compared to last time. "We have already prepared our strategy and are prepared to face the elections which are barely 40 days away," she said.

"The last five years have been a glorious period and we have fulfilled many promises. We have served the people of Delhi well. We will come out with our action taken report which will reflect the work done by us during this period," she said.

"We are fully prepared for the polls. The organisational work in this regard has already begun and I am sure we will effectively tackle the Opposition," she said.

The legislature party meeting was held in the presence of party president, Mr Kushabhau Thakre, Union Home Minister, Mr L K Advani, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr Madan Lal Khurana and Delhi BJP chief, Mr Mange Ram Garg.

Meanwhile, the residence of Ms Sushma Swaraj today bore a festive look. Ms Swaraj told her supporters at her residence that they must work hard to ensure a landslide victory for the party in the forthcoming polls.

A large number of supporters of Mr Sahib Singh converged at his residence on Sham Nath Marg and demanded that he be honourably reinstated.

Even Mr Sahib Singh’s appeal that they return back seemed to fall on deaf ears. To ensure that there was no untoward incident at the gathering, there was heavy police bandobast and traffic on the Sham Nath Marg was regulated.

Mr Sahib Singh’s announcement that he was obeying the party high command’s order evoked a sharp response from the people. "It was the people who decide who is going to be the Chief Minister and not somebody else."

But as the day progressed the crowd began to thin out.

The supporters criticised the party decision saying that it will mar their chances of winning in the polls. "The party had succeeded in building the image that it was also a party for farmers by making Mr Sahib Singh Verma the Chief Minister. But, now by removing him, things are very different," a supporter aid.

Mr Verma on his part, said that the party hopes to win between 55 to 60 seats in the Assembly elections. "However, it will extremely difficult to convince the people about this change of guard."

"I am not going to fight the Assembly elections but will definitely assist in campaigning," he clarified. "I am a disciplined soldier of the party and I will abide by its wishes," he added.

Mr Verma also said that he had ‘strongly’ given his opinion on the matter during the meeting with the party top bosses and the outcome was entirely their decision.



Sushma faces uphill task
From Shubhabrata Bhattacharya
Tribune News Service

NEW DELHI, Oct 11 — Cutting across barriers, political parties today acknowledged the importance of the outcome of the November 25 poll. While the BJP sacked Mr Sahib Singh Verma as Delhi Chief Minister and pitchforked a reluctant Mrs Sushma Swaraj into the hotseat, the CPM deferred the reconstitution of its Politburo till after the assembly elections in four states.

The likely crucial impact of Delhi Assembly results on national politics has been projected in these columns earlier. The Tribune had also projected some months back the possibility of Mrs Swaraj being made the Delhi Chief Minister, as the BJP feels that it has to put its best foot forward to retain its bastion in the Delhi Government.

Mrs Sushma Swaraj has an uphill task ahead. The fallout of her appointment will be the annoyance of Jats in rural Delhi and Punjabis in urban Delhi due to the respective Sahib Singh Verma and Madan Lal Khurana factors.

Added to this are the reports about Mr Om Prakash Chautala of the Indian National Lok Dal being peeved due to the dual reasons of removal of Mr Verma and the induction of Mrs Swaraj.

Mr Chautala’s party, which lends outside support to the Vajpayee government, has been demanding the dismissal of the Bansi Lal Government in Haryana. Now the appointment of Mrs Swaraj, whose husband, Mr Swaraj Kaushal is a Haryana Vikas Party (HVP)-backed Rajya Sabha member, has come as a red rag to the bull.

Mr Chautala was in Bharatpur (Rajasthan) today. However, according to sources in his party, he is peeved because while his plea for effecting a change in Haryana has not been accepted, the Chief Ministership of Delhi has gone to a family which is friendly with Mr Bansi Lal.

Thus, yet another supporting party has subjective reasons to be unhappy with the BJP-led coalition. Mr Chautala has close political ties with the Shiromani Akali Dal leadership, which, in turn, has its own reasons to be none too happy with its coalition partner, the BJP.

As things stand, all eyes are now riveted to the outcome of the November 25 poll. Ms Jayalalitha has returned to Chennai saying that while she is not pulling out of the ruling coalition now, her options are "open".

Last week’s developments in New Delhi have shown that the BJP is on a sticky wicket within the coalition. Allies are asserting. The irony is that while the BJP has 180 seats, its largest ally, the AIADMK, has less than 10 per cent of this strength in the Lok Sabha. Yet the allies want to have the upper hand.

In the Opposition, while the Left Front’s principal parties, the CPM and the CPI, are prepared to back a Congress "alternative", the numbers, as of now, do not seem to add up.

The Congress leadership is aware that if the BJP with its 180 seats is finding the going rough, the Congress with 140 will find it rougher.

Thus, in case November 25 throws up a verdict which has the potential of triggering a change of equations in the Lok Sabha, both BJP and the Congress could find themselves favouring fresh Lok Sabha elections than attempting to run dependent regimes in the present House.

Mrs Sushma Swaraj thus has been given a daunting task: her fortunes may determine the future course of national politics.



Quits Union Cabinet

NEW DELHI, Oct 11 (PTI) — Ms Sushma Swaraj tonight submitted her resignation as Information and Broadcasting Minister following her election as leader of the Delhi BJP Legislature Party. The Prime Minister is expected to retain the portfolios assigned to Ms Swaraj.


Chautala threatens to withdraw support

Bharatpur, Oct 11 (PTI) —The Haryana Lok Dal on Sunday threatened to withdraw support to the BJP-led coalition government at the Centre in protest against the replacement of Mr Sahib Singh Verma by Mrs Sushma Swaraj as Delhi Chief Minister. Party President Mr Om Prakash Chautala said in Bharatpur that an emergency meeting of the party would be held at Jind in Haryana on October 17 to discuss the issue. The HLD has four MPs in the present Lok Sabha.

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