BJP, Murli Manohar Joshi, Congress, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana state

Will BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Varanasi? The Delhi grapevine is abuzz with rumours of high-level confabulations that underline an effort to field Joshi, one of BJP's founders, from Varanasi.

The unseemly development follows BJP's decision to deny Joshi his Kanpur Lok Sabha seat for the 2019 elections. Joshi, the third president of the BJP and one of the foremost leaders of the party, was eliminated along with veteran leader LK Advani.  

Joshi was also miffed over the way in which the party decision to shunt him was communicated. It was reported that neither PM Modi nor party chief Amit Shah spoke to him about the reasons for denying him the party ticket.

Joshi later told the electorate in Kanpur that the party has asked him not to contest. "Shri Ramlal, General Secretary (Org.) Bharatiya Janata Party conveyed to me today that I should not contest the ensuing Parliamentary elections from Kanpur and elsewhere," he said in a statement.

Advani Joshi
BJP leaders LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi wave to their supporters at a public rally in Varanasi on 18 October, 2008.Reuters file

The 85-year-old had moved to Kanpur in 2014 as Modi wanted to contest from Varanasi. Joshi won the Kanpur seat with a thumping majority. A report in the NDTV said Joshi held talks with senior Congress leaders. The report said the Congress asked the veteran leader to contest from Varanasi as the joint Opposition candidate.

A thorn on Modi's side?

The report also says that Joshi is being persuaded by the leaders of Congress and other opposition parties to contest either from Varanasi or another BJP bastion. It also says that Joshi, feeling betrayed, is prepared to issue a public statement that condemns the Modi-Shah leadership of the BJP.

There have been reports in the press for a long time that Joshi would be eased out in this election as he had caused considerable unease to the government and the party in his role as the chairman of the Standing Committee of Parliament on Estimates. In one of the reports of the high-powered panel, Joshi had underlined that the government's defence spending as a percent of GDP was stuck at pre-1962 level, something that ran counter to the hyper nationalism pitch of the BJP and the government's stated commitment to modernise the defence forces.

In October last year, BJP MPs had shouted down a draft report prepared by Joshi recommending that the methodology used for GDP estimation should be reviewed. The BJP members averred that this would reveal wreaker growth in GDP.

Activist Prashant Bhushan recently highlighted another action of Joshi that rankled the nerves of PM Modi. This was when Joshi raked up a list of bank defaulters that former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan had submitted to the government.  "Modi doesn't forgive," [this], Bhushan said, according to Deccan Herald.