The BJP has suspended senior leader and Rajya Sabha member Ram Jethmalani from the party with immediate effect. Mr Jethmalani has, in the last few days, openly taken on the party, especially over the issue of the appointment of the new CBI chief. He had written to BJP president Nitin Gadkari, slamming the party's opposition to the appointment, instead saying the government's decision had averted a "national calamity".
"Mr Ram Jethmalani's membership has been terminated. BJP's President Mr Nitin Gadkari has suspended Mr Ram Jethmalani with immediate effect," party spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.
Taking a grim view of the 86-year-old lawyer-turned-politician's remarks, Mr Hussain on Sunday said, "Jethmalani's remarks are meant to help the Congress...party sees Jethmalani's letter on new CBI director as an act of gross indiscipline."
He also said that the process for Mr Jethmalani's expulsion process has been referred to the BJP Parliamentary Board that is scheduled to meet at 4:30 pm today. At the meeting, the party, sources say, is also likely to crack the whip against the other voices of dissent in the party, namely Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha. Both the leaders have, along with Mr Jethmalani, been at the forefront of the 'Go Gadkari' campaign - they have demanded that the BJP chief step down from his post over allegations of financial malpractice involving his Purti Group.
The party's action seems to have been triggered after a belligerent Mr Jethmalani, earlier in the day, dared the former to take action against him. The BJP had, on Saturday, said that "strong action" would be initiated against Mr Jethmalani for making statements against Mr Gadkari. The BJP also took strong exception to his public dissent with senior party leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley who had written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing their reservations over the appointment of Ranjit Sinha as the new Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
"If there is any action taken against me, I will welcome it but I don't think anyone has the guts to take any action against me," Mr Jethmalani told reporters. "I cannot speak for the party. I am a very small person in the party, I can't predict its action but that does not permit me from speaking the truth...I have expressed my view and I am very happy that at least 3-4 persons have supported me," he added.
He was referring to his party colleagues and senior leaders, Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha. Mr Jethmalani and his son Mahesh, also a party MP, had earlier created a huge storm after they had called for Mr Gadkari's exit. The senior Jethmalani, then, had also claimed that some other BJP leaders were with him on his demand. The move came as a huge embarrassment for the party which, at the time, was struggling to defend Mr Gadkari.
The Congress reacted to Mr Jethmalani's suspension by saying that action had not been taken against corrupt leaders. "The country was waiting that they will take action against corrupt leaders but the BJP has taken action against Ram Jethmalani," said Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi.
CPI leader D Raja said that he had no comments to offer on Mr Jethmalani's suspension, since it was the BJP's internal matter, but said "the party being the main opposition party, must squarely respond to the allegations made against its own president."
The drama over Nitin Gadkari was followed up on Saturday by Mr Jethmalani who stirred a fresh controversy after he wrote to the former, objecting to the party's stand on the appointment of the new CBI. Mrs Swaraj and Mr Jaitley had written to the Prime Minister that the Rajya Sabha select committee on Lokpal had recommended the CBI Director's appointment by a collegium. But the Prime Minister wrote back that Mr Sinha's appointment could not be kept on hold. The outspoken lawyer called the BJP's move a result of "complete ignorance of relevant facts" and "instigated by a most undesirable rival".
His reference was to Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, who had approached the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT) against the government's decision to not consider his name for the post of CBI Director.
Backing Mr Jethmalani, Shatrughan Sinha said that the CBI chief's appointment was fair. "Ranjit Sinha is the senior most IAS officer of 1974 batch, I think his selection as a CBI Chief is done in a very fair and transparent manner by the Government of India," the actor-turned-politician said.
Meanwhile, the BJP's parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), too is unhappy with the turn of events in the last fortnight, say sources. The rebellion within the party, which at a time should be unitedly working on taking on the government, has reportedly upset the RSS. The public rift is also worrying as it comes at a time when the party is readying for the polls next month in Gujarat where Chief Minister Narendra Modi is eyeing a third consecutive term.
On a larger level, the current turmoil is also being viewed by many as the deeply-entrenched factionalism in the party - the pro and anti-RSS groups - which has only come to the fore. The tension has been further precipitated recently by the issue of Nitin Gadkari's continuation as the party president for an unprecedented second term in the midst of charges of graft that he is facing. The party gave Mr Gadkari a clean chit recently over the allegations of financial impropriety, amply aided by the RSS, which had favoured him for a second term. But this did not impress the anti-Gadkari group, which believes that the continuation of Mr Gadkari as the party chief would tarnish the image of the BJP and severely dent its campaign the Congress-led UPA government over corruption.