New Delhi: The Arun Jaitley vs Kirti Azad battle is snowballing into a major crisis for the BJP and the government it leads. And beyond public statements, it is gearing up to battle another raging fire within.
Kirti Azad, a party lawmaker, has stopped just short of naming union finance minister and his senior party colleague Arun Jaitley, while alleging corruption in Delhi’s cricket body DDCA, which the latter headed for 13 years.
Today, Mr Azad raised the issue twice in the Lok Sabha, seeking a CBI investigation monitored by a special investigation team into his allegations. He signed off by reminding the House, “and we know who was heading the DDCA between 2008 and 2013,” a reference to Mr Jaitley.
This is unprecedented in BJP history. There have been rebellions, but never before has a party lawmaker targeted a minister on the floor of the House and at a time when the Opposition is gunning for the minister.
None of the BJP’s seniors present in the Lok Sabha intervened or tried to stop Mr Azad, who, party sources said, has managed to defy a whip from party president Amit Shah, who had met him twice on Friday and conveyed that going public with more charges against Mr Jaitley would hurt the party and the government.
Mr Azad, however, held a press conference on Sunday and made strong allegations without naming Mr Jaitley.
This morning he tweeted, “hello dear @arunjaitley hampar defemation file kar rahe ho na? Please karo na Don’t take injunction, don’t gag freedom of speech. (sic)”
Mr Azad has not been publicly reprimanded by the party chief. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not intervened either and the issue has not been flagged to the disciplinary committee of the BJP.
Today when Mr Jaitley went to the Patiala House courts to file a statement in a criminal defamation case against leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party, he was accompanied by five union ministers – JP Nadda, Smriti Irani, Piyush Goel, Dharmendra Pradhan and Rajyavardhan Rathore. Most of them are seen as close to Mr Jaitley.
And though many ministers have made public statements supporting Mr Jaitley, none of his colleagues among the government’s top five, like Home Minister Rajnath Singh or Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, have spoken yet.
The DDCA row threatens to open up fault-lines in the BJP. Mr Azad is perceived to be close to some senior BJP leaders with whom Mr Jaitley has had a rocky relationship over the last one decade.
And though Rajnath Singh is number two in the government, it’s no secret that Mr Jaitley has been seen as the most powerful minister in the government after the Prime Minister, a matter of much heartburn for his rivals in the party.
After the revolt of “elders” led by LK Advani over the party’s Bihar election debacle, the Azad attack is seen as yet another attempt by those sidelined by the rise of PM Modi and his close aides like Mr Jaitley, to weaken their grip.
Mr Jaitley has sued Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and five other AAP leaders for defamation over their DDCA allegations, but not against Mr Azad. “The case has been filed against those who have been naming individuals,” explained Mr Rathore.
BJP sources said that by not including Mr Azad, Mr Jaitley has left the room open for the party to act against him. The questions being asked now is, will the BJP?