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Party stands up for Modi, not Atal

New Delhi, June 14: In an exercise apparently contrary to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s wishes, the BJP today declared that Narendra Modi would stay as chief minister.

It said there was no proposal to discuss his possible removal at the party’s national executive in Mumbai next week, contradicting statements Vajpayee had made yesterday.

“There is no question of the national executive discussing the change of the chief minister of Gujarat or any CM for that matter. There is no proposal to change Narendra Modi, there is no discussion,” BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said.

The BJP was aflutter yesterday after Vajpayee was quoted by PTI as saying that Modi’s leadership would come under review at the Mumbai meeting and a change of guard could be on the cards. On Saturday, he had said the post-Godhra violence was one of the causes for the BJP’s defeat in the Lok Sabha polls.

Naidu said: “I am not in agreement with the interpretation that we lost the polls because of the Gujarat riots. After all, we won the Goa and Gujarat elections first and then Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.”

On the face of it, the statement seems a blunt defiance of Vajpayee. Naidu, however, said he had issued his “clarification” after speaking to Vajpayee who is vacationing in Manali and L.K. Advani, holidaying in Nainital.

Naidu was reminded about the central leadership’s pledge during the recent Gujarat rebellion against Modi that it would act after the Assembly session, which is over now. He said the issue would be discussed with the state unit.

After Vajpayee’s statements, Advani, Jaswant Singh and RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi spoke to the former Prime Minister.

Sources said “in their own way” they conveyed to him that the “feedback from the state units on his statements against Modi was not positive” and the “cadre was confused” whether the BJP had abandoned its Hindutva ideology.

Although Advani, too, is believed to be unhappy with Modi’s conduct, he has not made it public. BJP sources also wondered if, despite his dislike, Advani would want to see Modi go over the Gujarat riots.

The sources said the responses from the Sangh parivar were:

At a time when they wanted the Gujarat bloodbath to be consigned to history, there was no reason for Vajpayee to revive the memory.

When the BJP was trying to expose the contradictions in the Manmohan Singh government, Vajpayee put its politics in reverse gear by deflecting attention to in-house problems.

While his “liberal-sounding” words may reinforce his image as a centrist leader, it would do “no good” for the BJP in the impending Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Bihar.

A section of the party expressed unhappiness for singling out Modi as the “fall guy”. “Vajpayee was our leader and mascot in the elections, so some of the blame should also go to him,” the sources said.

But the biggest positive, they believed, was that Vajpayee’s statement would take the edge off the anti-Modi rebellion. The sources claimed even dissident leader Keshubhai Patel had said party MLAs were opposed to Modi not because of the riots but for his “style of functioning”.

Some dissident leaders spoke up for Vajpayee, though.

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