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Modi mudbath ends minus regret

New Delhi, Aug. 25: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rebuke to Narendra Modi had little effect on either the Gujarat chief minister or the state BJP.

A statement issued by Modi in Gujarat today betrayed no sign of repentance. “Following the Prime Minister’s guidelines on the issue, the controversy with the chief election commissioner has come to an end,” the terse statement said.

Modi stuck to his stand that the Election Commission should call early elections in Gujarat, saying: “Five crore people of Gujarat should be given the opportunity to elect a popular government as early as possible.”

Sources close to Modi asserted he would persist with his “defiance” and that there was no question of apologising for his remarks against poll panel chief J.M. Lyngdoh.

A senior BJP leader from Gujarat reflected the sentiments of the pro-Modi group when he said: “Atalji has spent many years in public life. We understand that as the Prime Minister, he has certain compulsions which probably prompted him to issue the statement yesterday. But we have to face the Hindus of Gujarat and every one of them is upset with Lyngdoh’s attitude. It is a Lyngdoh-versus-Modi battle and the BJP has to back the chief minister.”

Even the BJP’s central leaders went half-way with their Gujarat counterparts and stressed that Vajpayee’s criticism should not be given a “negative” interpretation but “read in the spirit in which it was intended”.

Party spokesman Sunil Shastri said: “It was taken as an advice and suggestion by the Prime Minister that people in senior constitutional positions should not indulge in allegations and counter-allegations. It is expected it will be taken as advice.”

Beneath the endeavour to show up Vajpayee’s statement as “marg darshan” (guidance), both the pro- and anti-Modi sections admitted to various layers of power tussle in the parivar of which Gujarat was a manifestation: between Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, within the RSS and between Modi and his predecessor Keshubhai Patel.

Sources pointed out that the latest issue of the RSS’ journal, Panchajanya, has an article by spokesman M.G. Vaidya supporting ousted Gujarat minister Haren Pandya and slamming Modi. Vaidya was away on tour but Sangh sources said he was close to human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi. “It is not a coincidence that Joshi also chose to criticise Modi in the presence of the RSS sarsanghchalak (K.S. Sudarshan) at Nagpur recently,” said a source.

While some believe that Joshi anticipated the Prime Minister’s statement, others said he was on the side of the Sudarshan-Vaidya axis, which has emerged to check the clout of Madan Das Devi, the RSS joint general secretary in charge of the political wing.

For the past two years, Devi, the Sangh link with the party and the government, has overshadowed Sudarshan, who rarely makes a public appearance.

While the original intention in promoting him was to rein in Sudarshan from making statements against the government, BJP sources said the plan backfired on Vajpayee.

Devi, sources said, was instrumental in forcing Vajpayee to elevate Advani as deputy Prime Minister. The flurry of conflicting statements on the Gujarat standoff has crystallised a perception in the BJP that the Sudarshan-Vaidya-Joshi axis could be a potential counter to a group associated with Devi and Advani.

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