New Delhi: The BJP on Wednesday suspended MP Kirti Azad, who has for the past week tormented Arun Jaitley by first levelling corruption charges against the finance minister and then daring him to hit back.
The decision was announced in the evening in a one-line release issued by the party and signed by general secretary Arun Singh. It said: "Because of anti-party activities, Shri Kirti Azad, Darbhanga MP, is suspended from the party with immediate effect."
On wednesday, Jaitley appeared to breathe easy after days. He hosted a session-end lunch in his chamber in Parliament for NDA MPs and journalists. The Rajasthani spread, carted from Jaipur, was organised within hours by the BJP's Rajya Sabha MP, Ajay Sancheti.
Kirti had left for Ahmedabad in the morning, possibly anticipating the action. "Wait and watch what I do next. Now I will tell everyone," he told PTI later.
The Darbhanga MP has for years been alleging financial irregularities in the Delhi and District Cricket Association, helmed by Jaitley from 2000 to 2013, but the controversy blew up after Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal last Tuesday alleged that the CBI had come looking for the DDCA probe file when it raided his principal secretary.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah took their time to weigh the fallout of cracking down on Kirti, who held a news conference on Sunday and had his say in Parliament on Monday, Jaitley sought a final resolution of the dispute.
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and former Bihar deputy chief minister Sushil Modi lent their voices in support of the finance minister.
Modi and Shah were pressured to bite the bullet before the Prime Minister left for Russia, sources said.
The BJP had taken no note of Kirti's news conference, at which he levelled 52 charges, other than to say that the charges were "baseless".
What spurred Jaitley and his backers to demand immediate action were two developments this week: first, Kirti's intervention in the Lok Sabha in Jaitley's presence when he called for a probe into the DDCA controversy by a special investigation team. BJP sources alleged the Congress benches had egged him on.
The second was a tweet calling Jaitley "impotent" and another daring the finance minister to drag Kirti to court. The MP disowned the first tweet, claiming his account had been hacked.
"Jaitley fumed and demanded that the party should not keep quiet any longer. He is set to present the general budget in two months," a source said.
Party chief Shah spoke up for Jaitley the same day that Kirti spoke in the House, but gave no hint that he would crack the whip on the cricketer-politician.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Modi had broken his silence on Jaitley at a BJP parliamentary party meeting and said that just as L.K. Advani had emerged "pure" from the hawala money-laundering case in 1996-98, the finance minister would come out of the DDCA controversy "unblemished". Again there was no word on Kirti, who at his news conference had said he was inspired by Modi's campaign against corruption.
"My suspension is bad for the party, not me. I have worked honourably for the party but I was branded anti-party," Kirti was quoted as saying today. He claimed due process was not followed in his suspension.
He dared the leadership to "prove what conspiracy I have entered into with Sonia Gandhi" and maintained he had never called Jaitley a "thief".
The BJP brass has of late been pilloried by its MPs. Those from Bihar had become vocal after the party lost the Assembly polls. Apart from Kirti, the others were Shatrughan Sinha, R.K. Singh and Bhola Singh. But the leaders "ignored" them.
Sinha, not known to be close to Kirti, counselled the BJP on Twitter to "avoid knee jerk reaction/coercive action against friend who's fighting against corruption".
"Have often quoted Newtons 3rd law. Feel that untimely action cud boomerang. Sadly, party with a difference (an old BJP slogan) has become party with differences," he tweeted.
BJP sources denied that Sinha was next in the line for a notice. "There is no move yet," a general secretary said.