14 years after BJP’s brainstorming session, Oppn to put up united face in Shimla


Shimla, June 23 (IANS) Fourteen years ago, then main opposition BJP had held a brainstorming session in Shimla over the state of affairs in the party against the backdrop of the Lok Sabha defeat in 2009 and internal bickering.

At that time, the split within the BJP was wide open with the expulsion of its own MP Jaswant Singh over alleged ideological transgressions related to his remarks on Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah and senior leaders like Arun Shourie and Yashwant Sinha, demanding soul-searching in the party after its poll debacle.

Now the opposition parties of the present day, including the Congress, which assembled in Patna on Friday for the grand opposition unity meeting aimed at forging a united face to take on the BJP in next year’s Lok Sabha polls, have again decided to meet in Shimla for a brainstorming session from July 10-12.

The venue for the opposition brainstorming session is likely to the state-run guest house-cum-hotel Peterhoff, officials told IANS.

In August 2009, this entire hotel was booked when the BJP hosted its three-day ‘Chintan Baithak’ or introspection meet that saw the attendance of top party leaders like L.K. Advani, then Leader of Opposition Rajnath Singh, Jaswant Singh and Sushma Swaraj, among others.

At that time, the BJP government in the state was led by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, the father of Union minister Anurag Thakur.

Currently, the Congress is in power in Himachal led by Chief Minister Sukhvinder Sukhu, who rose from the ranks without any dynasty background but has wide organisational experience.

A senior Congress leader told IANS that special arrangements will be made for the opposition leaders to visit the other imperial buildings in the state capital which were once institutions of power when the hill town was the summer capital of British India.

Over 25 senior BJP leaders, including then Chief Ministers Narendra Modi (Gujarat), Raman Singh (Chhattisgarh), Ramesh Pokhriyal (Uttarakhand) and B.S. Yeddyurappa (Karnataka), had participated in the 2009 introspection session.

Among other issues, former Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh’s remarks on Jinnah in his book ‘Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence’ were subjected to detailed discussions during the Shimla session.

On the opening day of the brainstorming session, the decision to expel Jaswant Singh, who passed away in September 2020, was taken by the Parliamentary Board of the party which met here.

Within hours of his expulsion, Jaswant Singh, who was in Shimla then but had been instructed by Rajnath Singh to stay away from the ‘Chintan Baithak’ as “tempers were running high”, met the media and said with tears in his eyes: “I have committed no sin.”

Jaswant Singh had said he had been expelled “for merely writing a book” without even the courtesy of a show-cause notice.

As someone who had been associated with the party for 30 years, he said the decision had left him saddened but he will not appeal against the move.

“I do not want to compromise on my self-respect for the path I have chosen for myself,” he had said, stressing that his political career was far from over in spite of the setback.

Lauding Jinnah as a “great man” in his book, Jaswant Singh had said Jinnah was “demonised” in India, while it was actually India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and first Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel whose belief in a centralised polity had led to the Partition of the subcontinent.

The BJP was then facing a rebellion by Vasundhara Raje, who had defied the party high command and refused to step down as Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly despite being asked to do so.

At that time, the BJP had admitted that hate speeches were among the reasons for its humiliating defeat in the Lok Sabha elections.

The closed-door meetings had also discussed threadbare a report of a committee headed by the party’s Vice President Bal Apte.

However, senior party leader Arun Jaitley had denied that such a report (by the Apte Committee) existed or was discussed at the session.

Not many people might be aware that Shimla, the erstwhile summer capital of British India, had witnessed the trial of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathu Ram Godse.

The trial was carried out from 1948-49 in the British-era Peterhoff building. At that time, it housed the Punjab High Court and this town was part of united Punjab.

Shimla, which served as the summer capital of British India between 1864 and 1939, currently has 91 British-era heritage buildings.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at gulatiians@gmail.com)


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