The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP takes iron man off mascot pedestal

New Delhi, June 3: A day after giving the impression that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani would be the BJP’s twin mascots for the Lok Sabha election, the party did a quick turnaround, declaring Vajpayee and Vajpayee alone would spearhead its campaign.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu — who yesterday said the poll campaign would focus equally on Vajpayee as “vikas purush” and Advani as “lauh purush” — today told newspersons: “There cannot be two leaders. The PM is PM, and next to him is the deputy PM. He will only be supporting the PM.

“Our slogan (in Lok Sabha poll 2004) will be Vajpayee ka naam, Vajpayee ka kaam (Vajpayee’s name, Vajpayee’s achievements). Atal Bihari Vajpayee is our prime ministerial candidate and he will lead us in the election.”

Naidu had himself coined the slogan and articulated it not so long ago. Today, he appeared to reinforce his belief in Vajpayee’s leadership, saying it was foolish to ask him when he would retire. “He is neither tired nor retired.”

In his enthusiasm to prove that he had never doubted Vajpayee’s ability, Naidu even interpreted what the Prime Minister meant when he reportedly told a German publication he would “retire” if his latest peace initiative with Pakistan failed.

“What he meant was he would retire from the process of taking any more initiatives of this kind towards Pakistan,” Naidu said.

For the BJP boss, Vajpayee was not only a leader but a guide as well. “One good thing about the PM is when you ask for guidance, he always gives it. Unlike a year ago, he appears much more comfortable today.”

Naidu did not say he was “misquoted” or “misunderstood” at yesterday’s news conference but “clarified” his point: “They will go down in history as vikas purush (development man) and lauh purush (iron man). That was the point I wanted to make.”

He said he had spoken to Vajpayee in the morning and told him of the “enormous goodwill” his foreign trip had created among the media and the BJP cadre.

It is not known if Naidu made the call to clear misgivings that could have cropped up in Vajpayee’s mind. Not only did Naidu’s twin-mascots proposal put a question mark on the leadership issue, it was made when Vajpayee was out of the country.

In a U-turn today, Naidu said: “The PM of our country was seen on a par with world leaders. He was successful in expounding India’s position on terrorism vis-a-vis Pakistan.”

To dispel any suspicion, Naidu said he would tomorrow lead a team of 100 party workers to felicitate Vajpayee on his “successful” trip.

The delegation will include Naidu’s office-bearers and members of various cells and front organisations. The BJP is also likely to release a statement in praise of Vajpayee.

Naidu’s surprise announcement yesterday meant many things to many in the BJP and outside: some felt Vajpayee’s agenda of “give and take” vis-a-vis the NDA allies — which forced the party to put Hindutva on the backburner — would not be enough to take the party to victory.

It was also meant to be an implicit message to the allies to prepare for a post-Vajpayee scenario in which Advani was the “natural successor”.

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