New Delhi: When the BJP announced its nominees for the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections, three names were a surprise to many within the party itself — one served as defence lawyer for the accused in the 2002 Gulberg Society massacre, another seemed to brook no recall, and the third is a friend of PM Narendra Modi who lost the 2017 Himachal Pradesh assembly election.
Abhay Bhardwaj, Sumer Singh Solanki and Indu Goswami are all low-profile leaders who are set to contest the 26 March Rajya Sabha polls from Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, respectively.
Bhardwaj is a Rajkot-based lawyer who defended the accused in the Gulberg Society massacre, which took place during the 2002 Gujarat riots and culminated in the killing of nearly 70 residents of a Muslim neighbourhood, including former Congress MP Ehsan Jafri. The trial culminated in a special court convicting 24 accused and acquitting 36 in 2016.
His nomination to the Rajya Sabha, sources in the BJP said, comes at the cost of several senior leaders’ hopes for a seat in the Upper House.
According to sources, Bhardwaj was associated with the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, the RSS’ student wing, during his school days but got disillusioned with the BJP when he didn’t get an assembly ticket for the 1990 elections.
He contested the 1995 election from Rajkot as an Independent and came third, behind the BJP (current Karnataka Governor Vajubhai Vala) and the Congress candidates. Sources say he subsequently joined the BJP but remained “sidelined”.
In 2016, the Modi government appointed him to the Law Commission as a part-time member.
The government also appointed him on the committee to select a presiding officer for the central government’s industrial tribunal.
He also served as special public prosecutor for the Gujarat government in a case of alleged misuse of power against former IAS officer Pradeep Sharma during his tenure as Rajkot district collector.
“Bhardwaj’s selection is very surprising… he is not such a big leader to get a Rajya Sabha seat but he was selected because of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani,” a BJP leader said.
“Vijay Rupani and Abhay Bhardwaj have been friends from their ABVP days… Abhay’s younger brother Nitin Bhardwaj is considered the chief minister’s man in the Saurashtra region… His fortunes changed when Rupani was appointed chief minister in 2016.”
Four of Gujarat’s 11 Rajya Seats will go the polls on 26 March, with the incumbents’ term set to end 9 April.
Sumer Singh Solanki is an assistant professor in the Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh. By nominating him and the BJP’s latest entrant Jyotiraditya Scindia, the party is denying another term to senior leaders Satyanarayan Jatiya, a veteran parliamentarian, and Prabhat Jha, a two-term Rajya Sabha member.
Solanki, it is said, was neither an aspirant nor had he demanded a ticket. He told ThePrint he was in college for classes when he got to know about his nomination. “I was told to reach the party office to file nominations,” he said.
Solanki’s nomination was such a surprise for BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh that, when contacted, the party’s Bhopal unit said, “We are not aware of any such person in the BJP… we have to check with the RSS whether he is associated with an affiliate organisation.”
According to sources, Solanki’s selection was meant to honour the “RSS quota”. He was associated with the RSS and served as a cleanliness pointperson in 600 villages under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Three of the state’s 11 Rajya Sabha seats face election later this month.
A former chief of the Himachal Pradesh mahila morcha (women’s wing) of the BJP, Indu Goswami contested and lost the 2017 assembly elections from the Palampur constituency.
According to sources, she has been nominated over such senior leaders as Mahendra Nath Pandey, BJP president J.P. Nadda’s classmate and party office in-charge, former state president Satpal Satti, and former MP Virendra Kashyap.
The demand for a ticket for Goswami came directly from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), a source said. “She was one of PM Narendra Modi’s friend during his days as prabhari in the state,” the source added.
Himachal Pradesh has three Rajya Sabha seats but only one is up for election on 26 March.
‘Different selection approach’
A BJP leader described PM Modi and former party president Amit Shah’s selection process as “very different from earlier”.
“Normally, they don’t give a second term to Rajya Sabha members unless they are highly useful for the party… The duo don’t select candidates with an aim to cultivate them as future leaders but to oblige them for their past contribution or keeping the caste factor in mind for state elections.”
Altogether, 55 Rajya Sabha seats will witness elections this month. Of these, the BJP has announced nominees for 14: Bhuvneshwar Kalita for Assam, Vivek Thakur for Bihar, Abhay Bhardwaj and Ramilaben Bara for Gujarat, Deepak Prakash for Jharkhand, titular king Leisemba for Manipur, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sumer Singh Solanki for Madhya Pradesh, Bhagwat Karad and Udayanraje Bhosale (Chhatrapati Shivaji’s descendant) for Maharashtra, Rajendra Gehlot for Rajasthan, Ramchander Jangra and Dushyant Kumar Gautam for Haryana.
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