The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Neither tired, nor retired: BJP’s leader, Advani’s leader

New Delhi, June 4: After much ado over who would lead the BJP into the next election — vikas purush or lauh purush or the two together — the man who set off the controversy, M. Venkaiah Naidu, set it at rest again.

If the prompting came from the vikas purush, Atal Bihari Vajpayee could not be caught sitting in the wings with the script.

“Atalji, you are not only the leader of India, the government and the NDA, but you are also the leader of Venkaiah Naidu and (L.K.) Advani,” the party president said today. His remarks followed his statement on Monday that the BJP poll campaign would focus equally on Vajpayee as vikas purush and Advani as lauh purush.

The context of Naidu’s affirmation in the Prime Minister’s leadership, made before a gathering of over 100 BJP members at 7, Race Course Road, was Vajpayee’s own address. The occasion was a felicitation from the party on his “successful” foreign trip. However, a BJP source said none of this would have happened without the leadership controversy.

The Prime Minister set the ball rolling with a reference to the banquet at St. Petersburg, billed as the high point of his recent overseas visit, and his position at the table next to President George W. Bush.

Vajpayee recalled India’s tough stand during the Kargil war and narrated other achievements of his government.

Then came the punchline: “If the truth is spoken with confidence and conviction, then the world will eventually be forced to accept it. Venkaiah (Naidu) said (in his speech) that India and the BJP are standing tall with self-confidence. Neither tired nor retired, but under Advani’s leadership, the party will march towards victory (in the next elections),” Vajpayee said.

The audience gasped, wondering what to make of the phrase “neither tired, nor retired” and the reference to Advani leading the BJP. The phrase was an obvious reference to the expression used by Naidu yesterday when he attempted to clear the confusion about who would spearhead the party campaign.

The BJP president, who barely 10 minutes ago had sung paeans to Vajpayee, took the mike once again and told the Prime Minister: “The party and the coalition wants to forge ahead under your leadership.”

Naidu added that Advani and he were as willing to be led by Vajpayee as other BJP members.

Advani looked embarrassed after Vajpayee tossed up his googly and left it to the party spin doctors to explain who meant what.

Naidu made light of Vajpayee’s statement. He said: “He (Vajpayee) has not said anything surprising. Advani had commanded the elections and formulated the strategy. The Prime Minister’s indications were towards this, so there should be no confusion in the media’s mind.”

BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi went a step further, saying: “The PM is the undisputed leader. He is our PM and he will be our PM in future, too.”

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