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Atal tilts to President’s rule in Gujarat

New Delhi, Sept. 3: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is veering round to the view that President’s rule could be inevitable in Gujarat following the Supreme Court’s virtual endorsement yesterday of the Election Commission’s decision to defer the polls, sources close to him said.

Vajpayee’s reported view is different from that of the BJP. The party maintains that until the apex court gives its interpretation of Article 174, Narendra Modi could continue as caretaker chief minister.

The BJP had based its case for early elections on this article, which holds that the gap between two Assembly sittings should not exceed six months.

Sources close to Vajpayee argued that the BJP’s move to invoke Article 174 to press for October elections — on the ground that the Gujarat Assembly last met on April 6 — has boomeranged.

The BJP had insisted that if Article 174 was flouted, there would be a “constitutional crisis” in the state.

“Going by its own stand, if Article 174 is adhered to, there would be a constitutional crisis after October 6. But since it is equally clear elections will not be held by then, this crisis can be solved only by bringing the state under Central rule,” the sources said.

Party spokesman Arun Jaitley — the most vocal proponent of Article 174 — was silent when he was asked yesterday what would happen once the five-year term of the Assembly expired.

Sources close to the Prime Minister, however, made it clear that the Centre would not take it upon itself to dismiss the caretaker Modi government and enforce Article 356.

“The ball is in Modi’s court. If he wishes to resolve the crisis, his Cabinet should meet and recommend that Gujarat be brought under Central rule,” they said. “How can a BJP-led government at the Centre dismiss one of its own state governments' The moot question is will Modi sign his death warrant and give up being a caretaker chief minister.”

That Vajpayee has been unhappy with Modi ever since the communal violence engulfed Gujarat is an open secret. He was angry when Modi slighted him in public on being advised to follow the “raj dharma” and not discriminate between his people. He was also miffed with the resignation drama that Modi staged at the BJP national executive in Goa last April.

Vajpayee also told his confidants that he regretted making the controversial speech at a rally in Panaji in which certain remarks were construed as anti-Muslim.

After the Election Commission decided against holding early polls, Vajpayee and law minister K. Jana Krishnamurthi were of the opinion that the commission’s decision should be “honourably” accepted. But Modi wanted to challenge the poll panel legally.

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