The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Infight diagnosis for hill debacle

New Delhi, March 2: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani blamed “organisational shortcomings” and “infighting” — and not anti-incumbency — for the BJP’s rout in the Himachal elections.

Both the leaders reportedly gave a clean chit to former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and maintained he could not be faulted for the way he had governed at a meeting of the BJP’s central office-bearers today.

Apparently, Union minister Shanta Kumar — perceived as Dhumal’s principal rival — was made the fall guy as Vajpayee reportedly harped on how the “message of infighting had percolated right down to the grassroots level” and took exception to his statement about people being “angry” with the Dhumal government.

When an office-bearer brought their attention to Kumar’s TV interviews which blamed the defeat on “poor governance”, BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said he would seek an explanation from him. Kumar was the Himachal chief minister when the BJP came to power in 1991.

The Kumar-Dhumal rivalry upset the BJP’s winning Brahmin-Thakur caste combination because with Kumar, a Brahmin, keeping aloof during the campaign, there was no visible response from the community towards the BJP. In a double blow, with the return of the Congress’ Veerbhadra Singh on the political centrestage, the Thakurs ditched Dhumal.

Addressing the meeting, Vajpayee was quoted by general secretary and chief spokesman Pramod Mahajan as saying: “We should have fought unitedly. People were angry with us and this was evident from the kind of response there was at the election meetings. The crowds showed up but there was no enthusiasm. Man ka kamal nahi khil raha tha (the lotus in their minds was not blossoming).”

Vajpayee added that though the Congress, too, was plagued by dissidence, the “open criticism of each other by the BJP leaders was the major factor behind the defeat”.

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