Top BJP leaders likely to skip Munda swearing-in

Almost the entire top BJP leadership is expected to give a miss to the oath-taking ceremony today.

New Delhi/Ranchi: Almost the entire top Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership is expected to give a miss to the oath-taking ceremony on Saturday of Arjun Munda as Jharkhand chief minister, BJP sources said.

Apart from senior leader LK Advani, party president Nitin Gadkari, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley are also not likely to attend the swearing-in, the sources said.

The sources said the senior leaders would not be able to go to Ranchi as "they had got invitations at short notice".

They said that while Advani and Sushma Swaraj had commitments in Delhi, Jaitley would be in Gujarat today. Gadkari had a function to attend in Nagpur in connection with Ganesh Chaturthi.

"Advaniji has agreed to attend an Eid-ul-Fitr related function at the home of a BJP Muslim leader in Delhi on Saturday. His presence for the swearing-in ceremony in Ranchi is therefore unlikely," said a senior party leader on condition of anonymity.

Munda will today be sworn in as head of a Bharatiya Janata Party-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) government.

However, BJP state spokesperson Sanjay Seth said in Ranchi that Gadkari, who ended a visit to Russia on Friday, was likely to attend the oath-taking ceremony.

"Senior party leaders like Rajnath Singh, Ravi Shankar Prasad and the chief ministers of Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand will also attend the oath-taking ceremony," Seth said.

According to party insiders, Advani was reported to be upset at being kept in the dark about Munda`s candidature and the alliance with the JMM, just three months after the BJP and JMM had parted ways.

"Not only Advaniji... other leaders are also not happy with the developments (in Jharkhand)," said a senior leader.

"There is a clear division within the party on this issue," the leader said without elaborating.

On the record, however, the party put up a different face.

Party spokesperson Ramnath Kovind said Gadkari had consulted senior leader Advani before announcing Munda`s candidature for the chief minister`s post.

"These are all creations by the media," Kovind said, refuting the speculation about the supposed tensions between Advani and Gadkari.

According to Kovind, Gadkari, who is chairman of the party`s parliamentary board, had consulted with Advani and other parliamentary board members on phone from Russia on developments in Jharkhand and on Munda`s appointment.

He added that Munda`s was the only name that figured and there was unanimity on his selection.

"No parliamentary board meeting has taken place because the party president is abroad," Kovind said.

Gadkari left for Russia on September 6 on an invitation from the `Water Freedom Revolution` (WFR) and was due back Friday.

According to Kovind, names of other leaders were considered for the chief minister`s post when the BJP withdrew support to the JMM-led government of Shibu Soren in May. The state was under President`s Rule.

During that time of political uncertainty, the names of several leaders, including former union finance minister and Lok Sabha MP Yashwant Sinha, Lok Sabha Deputy Speaker Karia Munda and Arjun Munda, figured as amongst the probables for chief minister.

"Now everybody has agreed on the election of Arjun Munda because of some political compulsions. We are confident he can provide good governance and stability to the state," Kovind added.

Party sources said that senior leaders were wary of the stability of the new government due to their past experience with JMM chief Shibu Soren. They said that Soren had backtracked on his assurances to support a BJP-led government in the state before imposition of President`s Rule.