The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM’s olive branch has party in turmoil

New Delhi, May 5: BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu’s assertion today that no “outside power” can force India to restore normality with Pakistan reflects the ferment in the party ever since the Prime Minister’s olive branch to the neighbour.

Though, for the record, the BJP has cautiously welcomed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s overture, murmurs of dissent are already being heard.

Party sources said they have reservations on three counts. First, Pakistan’s “notorious” history of stabbing India in the back whenever a major peace initiative has been mooted.

Second, it was Vajpayee’s “unilateral decision”, though the sources said it would be “improper” for the BJP and the Sangh parivar to sound churlish now.

Third, with elections round the corner, the BJP is still wondering how to “showcase” the fallout of the peace initiative if it is positive and how to “justify” it if it is not.

“No doubt, the Prime Minister was candid enough to admit (in Parliament) that this was his last attempt, but our cadre are asking why he had to do it because not just them, the country’s sentiments are anti-Pakistan,” the sources said. “This has created doubts on whether he was forced to say what he did (in Srinagar) because of US pressure or anticipation of US pressure.”

Naidu’s assertion in Vijayawada this morning was to dispel such misgivings. “Prime Minister Vajpayee, as a last chance, is determined to initiate dialogue with Pakistan to create normality on both sides. Now the ball is in Pakistan’s court, though we are optimistic that much depends on Pakistan’s response to our initiative to create a conducive atmosphere,” he said, stressing that the peace offer was a bilateral engagement.

But party sources said they were unsure how far the “spin” would take them. “There are reports that members of the Cabinet Committee on Security are not happy. They have reasons to be. India has had to pay a price when the Lahore bus journey was undertaken or when the Agra summit took place. What if things go wrong yet again' Are we prepared to go to war or sit back and allow Pakistan to have the better of us'”

Similar views had been expressed during the Agra summit in 2001 by the BJP and the RSS, although covertly. When the summit ended inconclusively, those who expressed them were jubilant. “But for the presence of L.K. Advani, some declaration which may not have served India’s interests could have been signed. It is his alertness that saved the day for India,” a senior party member had said.

The “Advani viewpoint”, it was said at that time, was articulated by the home minister’s followers to the media to “influence” the government.

Now, the sources believe, a similar line of action may again put the brakes on Vajpayee’s effort or “force him to go slow at least until the election”.

Another perception is that the Srinagar declaration was meant to reassert Vajpayee’s “supremacy” in the government and send the message that though the BJP would again project him as its prime ministerial candidate, it would be on his terms.

“He wants a place in history by doing what Mrs Gandhi did in Shimla. Despite what we may feel, the feeling is that the Prime Minister is in complete charge of his government because the Srinagar statement was a rebuff to the likes of (defence minister) George Fernandes and (foreign minister) Yashwant Sinha who advocated a hawkish line against Pakistan,” the sources said. “Perhaps, outside the parivar, he has emerged a statesman once again.”

The subtext, they added, was that in the run-up to the 2004 elections, the parivar was not the only king maker as Vajpayee had acquired an identity beyond the RSS and Hindutva. According to the sources, Vajpayee wanted to reinforce this image rather than appear as just an “apologist” for Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and the VHP.

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