The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal stop signal in leadership row

New Delhi, June 9: Hours after .K. Advani announced in Washington that Atal Bihari Vajpayee would continue to head the government for the next five years, the Prime Minister signalled it was time to end the week-long leadership controversy.

BJP sources said Vajpayee met Murli Manohar Joshi and asked him not to aggravate matters by issuing statements in his favour. Although this morning’s one-and-half hour meeting at Vajpayee’s residence took place at the human resources development minister’s initiative, he was told that in the “larger interest of the party”, he should not be doing what he was.

Sources said Vajpayee “gently” told Joshi not to take up cudgels on his behalf, hinting he was capable of fending off attacks on his own. Vajpayee is also believed to have said Joshi was not helping matters by speaking up when the controversy was beginning to fade away.

In a TV interview on Friday, Joshi had attacked BJP boss M. Venkaiah Naidu for calling Vajpayee vikas purush. Joshi said neither the BJP executive committee nor its other policy-making bodies had made any such decision and what Naidu said was his personal perception.

“Vajpayee is not only vikas purush.… He represents the sum total personality of BJP and also of NDA. So to limit him to a small segment of political and economic development was never discussed in the party,” Joshi said.

Given the uneasy equation between Joshi and Advani, the HRD minister’s statement was construed by the deputy Prime Minister’s loyalists as Vajpayee’s way of “hitting back” and possibly opening the way for a “realignment of power” which could see the “anti-Advani” lot regrouping.

BJP sources said Vajpayee sought to “rectify” this “misconception” and re-establish that he was essentially a “loner” and above factional politics. If Vajpayee was seen responding through surrogate voices, it would blunt the “moral position” he had taken when he declared that Advani would lead the BJP in the next election though he was “neither tired nor retired”.

Vajpayee’s assertion won him the sympathy of die-hard Advani loyalists who felt Naidu should not have tried to “undermine” his authority when he was out of the country. But after Joshi’s statement, Vajpayee’s new-found sympathisers disapproved of the way in which the controversy was lingering.

Sources said the BJP even planned to join issue with Joshi by issuing a statement in Naidu’s favour. But the RSS got wind and sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan prevailed on the party to end the slugfest.

But BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi could not resist taking a dig at Joshi. He recalled a slogan Joshi had coined when he was BJP chief, which said the party was led by the Vajpayee-Advani-Joshi triumvirate and implied that all three were on an equal footing.

Today, Naqvi pronounced the matter “closed”. The chapter is closed,” he said in a press briefing today.

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