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Atal needs one more term for catch-up
- Vajpayee sends subtle message on another shot at office, rejects Musharraf’s West Asia model

Shanghai, June 27: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee again threw into focus the question of a second term in office and the splutter within the BJP over the issue.

As Vajpayee was commenting on his experiences in China during an end-of-visit conference, he was asked why India had lagged behind China in economic progress, although both countries began their journeys around the same time with much the same problems of poverty, illiteracy and social backwardness.

“We have begun to take steps to reduce the gap,” he said. Then came the fine print that sent the media on a different scent. “If I have another five-year term, I’ll try to complete some of these measures (for economic development).”

Was that his “final word” on speculation over his “retirement” and his leading the BJP in the next elections' The Prime Minister laughed and said: “Don’t mix the two.”

There seemed little doubt that he himself wanted no mixing up of the main message — that he is keen on another term. The message could be once again for party colleagues like M. Venkaiah Naidu who may have misread the Prime Minister’s mind, wittingly or otherwise, or spoken their own minds prematurely.

Road map punch

Switching to bilateral relations, Vajpayee said issues between India and Pakistan could not be resolved through a “West Asia-type road map”.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf had made the suggestion during his recent visit to the US. “I don’t see any such possibility nor any necessity for it,” Vajpayee told the media conference.

Musharraf’s suggestion was seen by the Indian side as another attempt to bait India. Worse still, his suggestion for a “West Asia-type” solution for Kashmir had more than a hint that the Americans would be part of that “road map”.

Pakistan, he said in reply to another question, did not figure much in his talks with the Chinese leaders. This has been the position maintained by the Indian side throughout the Prime Minister’s six-day visit here.

Vajpayee did bring up Pakistan in his talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, but the discussions were not “Pakistan-centric”.

Apparently, the two sides deliberately avoided China’s sale of nuclear and missile technology to Pakistan since India had repeatedly expressed its concern over it.

The Pakistani factor continues to be there in India-China relations, but officials point out that there was a clear indication of a changing Indian strategy in Defence Minister George Fernandes’ recent volte-face on his earlier statement that China was India’s “security threat number one”.

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