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On Mission 2004, with Vajpayee in lead

Mumbai, June 17: On a sprawling stretch of quiet green, designed to “uplift” the mind and spirit, the BJP today launched what it called its Mission 2004: to win the general election and certainly under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership.

The “mission possible”, as senior leader Pramod Mahajan stressed right at the onset of the four-day chintan baithak, would “deliberate on strategies and not pass resolutions on new decisions”.

The introspective session, being held after eight years, will have only 27 top BJP leaders deliberating on the party’s poll prospects and how to fulfil their aim of winning a two-thirds majority and with the “present NDA partners”.

While Vajpayee will arrive here tonight, his deputy .K. Advani will join the camp at the picturesque Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini — a 14-acre resort on the extreme fringe of Mumbai — tomorrow afternoon. Among the others are party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi, Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Jaitley.

Mahajan was quick to point out that though many leaders have not found a place at the conclave, “it doesn’t mean they are not with us in this”.

The BJP general secretary gave enough indications that the party has a lot to talk about and introspect. “We held a chintan baithak eight years ago at Virar and Atalji took oath as Prime Minister soon after,” he said. “We are sure this session, too, will prove to be as lucky.”

He added that the leaders were meeting not because they had worries, but because they did not want to end up having worries. “Chinta hai isliye hum chintan nahi kar rahein hain, chintan ho rahi hai taaki chinta na ho.”

Mahajan did not specify the topics on which the BJP would brainstorm. But sources indicated that the discussions would focus on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s increasing belligerence, the Congress’ growing confidence and the possibility of bringing forward next year’s Lok Sabha election to coincide with the Assembly elections in five states this year.

That the BJP needs to take the Sangh along is underlined by the presence of RSS leader Madan Das Devi, who will be taking active part in the soul search. Devi will represent all Sangh members and will put forward his views on all issues, Mahajan said, though he dodged a query on whether the increasingly aggressive VHP has been deliberately kept at arm’s length.

The former Union minister also denied any misunderstanding with the RSS on crucial issues like defence and economy. “We have no standing to ask them (the RSS) to keep quiet on any issue,” Mahajan said, asked if the views of the RSS on certain topics were getting too uncomfortable for the BJP in an election year. “They say what they feel is right for everyone.”

Sources said all the 27 leaders will unofficially put forward their opinion on a host of subjects and, at the end of the session, the party would try to formulate an official line of thinking.

Mahajan emphasised that there was no question of anyone other than Vajpayee leading the party in the polls. By asserting that Naidu will chair the session, he also scotched murmurs that the BJP president could be replaced following his recent statement that Vajpayee and Advani would be the party’s twin mascots.

Mahajan was, however, visibly uncomfortable fielding questions specifically on Vajpayee. “I will not like to answer anything on the Prime Minister after the recent controversy,” he said, asked if the beautiful surroundings would inspire Vajpayee to write poetry.

“I don’t want to say anything,” he added. “But if the Prime Minister does write some poetry here, we will all enjoy reading it.”

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