Why BJP wants Parliament in midst of Gujarat polls

It is generally the prerogative of the government to announce the dates of parliamentary sessions. But this time around, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, issued an official statement suggesting that the winter session of Parliament could be held from 21 November to 21 December, exactly around the time the Congress and the BJP will be locked in fierce electoral combat in Gujarat.

Swaraj was given four options by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal for the winter session — from 21 November to 21 December; from 26 November to 21 December; cutting short the session by holding it from 26 November to 7 December; and a staggered session by holding it for a week in November and then continuing it in December.

Why did the BJP accept the first option? Party MPs are wondering what this is all about, but insiders say that at the centre of it all is Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

The commencement of the winter session around the time of the polls will come in as a handy excuse for BJP leaders to stay in Delhi and not campaign intensively in Gujarat. PTI

Question: if Parliament is in session, how will the BJP's leaders make time to campaign in Gujarat? Or is it being suggested that they need not come to Gujarat, and the Parliament session is a good excuse for them to remain in Delhi?

A senior BJP leader told Firstpost: “It is no secret that Gujarat is a one-man show of Narendrabhai. Some leaders will certainly go there for campaigning but it is more of tokenism — to give everyone the feeling that there is a vast array of leaders who are making a difference on the ground. The commencement of the winter session around the time of the polls will come in as a handy excuse for BJP leaders to stay in Delhi and not campaign intensively in Gujarat. We can safely say that we are so heavily preoccupied here in Delhi.”

Another BJP leader said only four or five leaders are required there. LK Advani and Arun Jaitley are MPs from Gujarat, so they will be there. Jaitley also acts as a backroom strategist for Narendra Modi, and he could thus address a few public rallies.

On the other hand, the winter session of Parliament will see a great deal of fireworks. FDI in retail, Coalgate and the Robert Vadra issue will provide Modi with the perfect setting to turn the spotlight on the centre's failures, if these issues are taken up aggressively.

A third point is also being mentioned. Modi’s month-long first round of campaigning — the Vivekanand Yatra — saw substantial popular support. There is virtual unanimity of opinion in both the BJP and the Congress that Modi will win for the third straight time, the only issue of interest being the size of the mandate. In this context, it makes better sense for the party's leaders to focus on the winter session and corner the government, and see if early parliamentary polls can be precipitated.

Though there is no direct correlation between the two developments, some insiders consider it significant that the BJP's central leaders indicated their preference for the winter session just when Modi had an extended three-hour-long discussion with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and other top functionaries in Nagpur.

Though it will take some time for word to get out on what really was discussed, Modi offered some positive signs of improving his own image by calling Bihar BJP President CP Thakur and other state leaders to campaign in his state. Earlier, when the names of Bihar leaders were found missing from the list of 40 leaders who would be campaigning in Gujarat, it was alleged that Modi was unhappy over his not being allowed to campaign in the last Bihar election. Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi, the BJP's only Muslim Lok Sabha MP, Shahnawaz Hussain, and former Bollywood star Shatrughan Sinha could be asked to campaign in some pockets.

Meanwhile, in the midst of electioneering, Modi scored a diplomatic coup today with British High Commissioner James Bevan travelling to Gandhinagar to meet him to normalise relations with Gujarat, ending a 10-year boycott by the United Kingdom.