New Delhi, June 5: Left squirming by Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement last night that the party will march to victory under L.K. Advani in the next election, the BJP today scrambled to cap the eruption of speculation over leadership. But the government had the jump on the party.
At a meeting this morning, the Cabinet expressed the hope that Vajpayee would continue to lead the country. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi congratulated the Prime Minister on behalf of the Cabinet for his “successful” three-nation tour.
Barring the Trinamul Congress, none of the allies thought it necessary to separately reaffirm their faith in Vajpayee’s leadership. A Janata Dal (United) leader said: “Where is the need for this' It’s an internal problem of the BJP and as far as we can see, Vajpayee will not be upstaged so easily. If and when it comes to that, we shall see.”
BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, who started the controversy, swore his loyalty to Vajpayee’s leadership for the third consecutive day. “There is no confusion at any level within the party about the leadership. The present government’s tenure is up to 2004. There is no point discussing the leadership issue now and nobody has raised it within the party,” he said.
Naidu called on Vajpayee in the evening. After the 15-minute meeting, sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said: “Vajpayee is happy with Naidu.”
Emerging out of 7, Race Course Road, the BJP president did not look too happy with life to reporters waiting outside. He hurried into his car without saying a word. There was also speculation that after the visit he put in his papers but this was denied by party sources.
Vajpayee himself had called the party chief in the morning and advised him not to allow “mischievous” media reports to detract from the “larger” goal of taking the party to victory in the elections. He also told Naidu that mutual trust and confidence were essential to keep the party going.
The BJP chief told PTI later that he shared an “excellent and lively relationship with Vajpayee on a day-to-day basis”.
The damage containment was initiated last night itself when Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and Naidu went into a huddle to discuss the Northeast zonal meeting organised by the party in Guwahati on June 6 and other upcoming programmes.
A large part of Naidu’s day today was spent giving explanations and clarifications to the media. Within the party various options were being discussed to put the lid on the boiling cauldron of controversy.
One such was to adopt a resolution upholding Vajpayee’s leadership. But a functionary sounded uncertain: “It’s a Catch-22 situation. If we have such a resolution, we will be told that so far we didn’t believe in his leadership and if we don’t, the media will go to town on how the BJP is unwilling to defend its own Prime Minister.”
Advani loyalists insist that Vajpayee’s statement was a clear indication of his willingness to step down. But there were voices critical of Naidu’s vikas purush and lauh purush descriptions of Vajpayee and Advani.
“It’s a lightweight term that pales before the stronger phrase, lauh purush,” said one leader.