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Atal ticks off Modi for Lyngdoh slander

New Delhi, Aug. 24: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tonight issued a hard-hitting statement against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi for his intemperate and personal remarks against chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh.

Expressing distress at the “undignified controversy”, Vajpayee said: “I may have differences over the decision or the attendant observations of the Election Commission with regard to the Assembly polls in Gujarat. There are constitutional means to deal with such matters but no one should use improper language or make indecorous insinuations in expressing their views.”

The note of censure struck by Vajpayee was aimed directly at Modi, who was quoted as saying at a public rally near Vadodara on Tuesday: “Some journalists asked me recently, ‘Has James Michael Lyngdoh come from Italy'’ I said I don’t have his janam patri, I will have to ask Rajiv Gandhi. Then the journalists said, ‘Do they (Lyngdoh and Sonia) meet in church'’ I replied, ‘Maybe they do’.”

But given that Modi has an influential section of backers in the BJP, Vajpayee pulled off a balancing act by making a veiled criticism of Lyngdoh as well.

“Both are high constitutional authorities and must be given the respect that is their due,” he said. “It must be recognised by one and all that maturity of our democracy lies in all its institutions working within their constitutional limits, respecting each other’s domain and maintaining proper balance.”

Vajpayee then appealed to “all those concerned” to put an immediate end to the “unseemly” row. The DMK, too, slammed Modi’s remarks as “uncivil”.

Vajpayee’s grim view follows human resources development minister M.M. Joshi’s unexpected criticism of Modi yesterday before RSS brass in Nagpur. “No one, not even a chief minister, should make such remarks against a constitutional authority,” he had said.

Since the elevation of L.K. Advani as deputy Prime Minister, Joshi is considered one of the few Vajpayee-backers left in the Cabinet. Observers feel Joshi’s remarks were a reflection of the Prime Minister’s disquiet.

But Advani, now in the UK, continued to back Modi. In an interview to BBC London, he asserted that the poll panel could not hold up elections in Gujarat and dismissed the “propaganda” against Modi as “bereft of factual content”. He also has the backing of BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu, indicated by the party’s refusal to rap Modi.

Though the BJP rallied behind Modi at the Goa national executive in April, sections in the party had been uneasy about his handling of the riots and the flak it provoked worldwide.

It emerged later that Modi’s quit offer was stage-managed, but BJP sources said there was relief among a majority when he announced he would step down. Within minutes, four Advani loyalists — all Cabinet ministers —protested, forcing the gathering to fall in line. Vajpayee, reportedly keen to get rid of Modi, had no option but go along with the “general mood”.

Lyngdoh notice

Lyngdoh was served a legal notice by a Gujarat official for allegedly “insulting” him. Ghanibhai Qureshi, chairman of Gujarat minority finance and development corporation, said Lyngdoh had mocked him as a “government agent”.

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