Goel met BJP president Rajnath Singh and Narendra Modi minutes before the party's Central Election Committee meeting in Delhi on Sunday to decide candidate for Chhattisgarh Assembly polls and told them about his opposition to Harsha Vardhan's candidature.

The Delhi unit chief is understood to have told the top party leaders that any move to project Harsha Vardhan will harm the party's interest and will demoralize workers at the grassroot level. Goel reportedly projected his case for the party's chief ministerial candidate in Delhi saying that he had worked hard to strengthen the party in Delhi last eight months.

After his meeting, he left in a huff and refused to entertain any queries of media persons. Scores of Goel supporters also raised slogans in favour of him outside the BJP headquarters at Ashok Road where the meeting was held. Sources said Goel was specially called for the meeting to discuss the issue of chief ministerial candidate for Delhi.

Amid talks of party having zeroed in on Harsha Vardhan's name, leaders had called Goel for agreeing on the name to avoid any conflict in the party ahead of polls. When asked about any move to name the chief ministerial candidate in Delhi, party president Rajnath Singh later said, "the BJP's Parliamentary Board Meeting is yet to be held".

Later on Sunday evening, Goel issued a statement rejecting reports that he walked out of election committee meeting held at party headquarters in Delhi. "Since I am not a member of the Central Election Committee of BJP, I was not to attend the meeting of the same which took place on Sunday evening. Therefore the reports in certain sections of media regarding my walking out and threat to resign are baseless," he said.

The Delhi unit of the party is already facing a crisis and is faction-ridden. Sources said Goel conveyed to the leadership that it will be difficult for him to work with "equal vigour" if he is ignored and Harsh Vardhan is made the chief ministerial candidate. The sources said Goel referred to results of various opinion polls in the last couple of months and said all surveys have projected him as the "most popular" choice for BJP CM candidate.

According to sources, some of the central leaders, who attended Sunday’s election committee meeting, expressed disappointment over the way the party was being run in Delhi under Goel's presidentship and favoured projection of Harsha Vardhan as its chief ministerial candidate.

They said shouting of slogans in favour of Goel by his supporters when the Election Committee meeting was going on also angered some leaders. The rift over the issue in Delhi BJP has threatened to derail the party's campaign to dethrone the Sheila Dikshit government and return to power after a gap of four years.

A number of senior Delhi leaders of the party have already conveyed to central leaders their "deep anguish" over the "tone and tenor" of Goel's comments at a press conference last week projecting himself as BJP's popular face for CM. In the press conference, rejecting reports that Vardhan was a front runner, Goel had said, "Opinion polls projected me against Sheila Dikshit. Look at the results of the opinion polls. My party is ahead and so am I."

A number of senior Delhi leaders have also conveyed to Delhi election in-charge Nitin Gadkari that Goel has violated party discipline by openly projecting himself as chief ministerial candidate and indicating that he will not be happy if someone else was chosen for the position. Gadkari has maintained that the BJP Parliamentary Board will take a final decision on the issue. The parliamentary board is likely to meet in next two-three days.

A number of senior Delhi leaders are understood to have conveyed to the party leadership that they should announce the candidature of Vardhan who is believed to have wider acceptability among people, party leaders and workers. Party sources said leaders including LK Advani, Modi, Swaraj and Ananth Kumar are in favour of declaring Vardhan as candidate for the top post.

They said the leadership is seriously concerned over the atmosphere in the party in the wake of the race for the chief ministerial candidature. They argued that Vardhan, a former Delhi minister and senior party leader, has a clean image and that he would be able to put up a united fight to dethrone the Congress dispensation.

The BJP central leadership feels Delhi Assembly elections are crucial ahead of Lok Sabha elections and the party cannot afford to lose it for the fourth time in a row.


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