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Atal ally Thackeray salutes ‘googly’

Mumbai, June 6: Support for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, both as Prime Minister and as leader of the National Democratic Alliance, came from an unlikely quarter today, with Balasaheb Thackeray saying, “It is only Vajpayee who can hold the NDA together.”

The Shiv Sena leader’s vote of confidence in the Prime Minister came in the wake of debate on the BJP leadership that has surfaced following party president M. Venkaiah Naidu’s description of Vajpayee as vikas purush and deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani as lauh purush.

On Vajpayee’s remark that he is neither “tired nor retired” and that the BJP will go to polls under the stewardship of Advani, Thackeray said: “The Prime Minister really played a nice move. Call it a googly or something else but he has played his cards well.”

Thackeray has been a persistent critic of both Vajpayee and Advani, especially on Kashmir, the common civil code and, more recently, on illegal immigrants. The Sena chief has stopped just short of saying, in public forums, that he does not support the BJP anymore.

Today, however, Thackeray sang a different song. “NDA without Vajpayee'” he asked in mock horror. “Vajpayee alone can handle the NDA. Though he is a mild leader, he works very cleverly and there is nobody who can attract people like him.”

The Sena leader, however, did not comment on who should lead the BJP in the coming elections. “It is the BJP’s internal matter who leads the party in the coming elections,” Thackeray said. “Why should I comment on it'”

Support for Vajpayee, however, came at the cost of scathing criticism of, even warning on, the NDA government’s stand on the conditional access system (CAS). Immediately getting back in form, Thackeray lashed out at the government, saying it has “struck a deal” with a London-based business magnate who wants to dump set-top boxes in India.

“The government will have to pay a heavy price for such a move, which is intrinsically against the middle class,” Thackeray said. The government had not taken any of its allies into confidence on the CAS issue, alleged the Sena leader.

Thackeray said his organisation would oppose the move and was deciding how best to do so. The Sena will not watch in silence as the government “fleeces” millions of middle-class people, he said. The Sena will not remain quiet as the government initiates measures to “turn India into a dumping yard for obsolete set-top boxes”, thundered Thackeray.

Mumbai, like the other three metros in the country, is sharply divided and confused on the issue of CAS. While some cable operators have been doing the rounds of subscribers to explain the benefits of CAS, most residents have kept them — and their arguments — at arm’s length, hoping that the government would remove their doubts on the issue.

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