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BJP sets Modi date with bow to Manali

New Delhi, June 18: After having got his way with the party on discussing Gujarat — euphemism for trying to get rid of Narendra Modi — Atal Bihari Vajpayee today owned up responsibility for the Lok Sabha election defeat.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu has convened a meeting of the parliamentary board, the party’s apex decision-making body on political and policy matters, on June 20 to discuss the 2004 elections “threadbare”, said general secretary Pramod Mahajan while making the announcement.

Replying to a question, Mahajan said: “Gujarat, too, has been included. The parliamentary board is authorised to take the final decision on political issues. As for Gujarat, any member can raise any issue pertaining to the state.”

The board includes Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Naidu, Jaswant Singh, Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Shivraj Chauhan and Sanjay Joshi as a special invitee.

Speaking at the hill resort of Manali, from where he initiated the Gujarat offensive, Vajpayee said he was taking “maximum responsibility for the defeat because the elections were fought in my name. I will do penance for it.”

Asked how he would atone, he did not say by taking “political sanyas” — as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had proposed — but by “working harder”.

“Hard work will not be lacking,” Vajpayee was quoted by PTI as saying. “Our opponents got more votes than us in the elections. I will try my best to get more votes next time,” he declared.

On Vajpayee’s comment, Mahajan said: “He is our tallest leader. The army general accepts responsibility for a defeat in the battlefield. That’s what Vajpayee has done and it shows how large-hearted he is. But in BJP we believe in collective responsibility.”

Asked if he had said it under Sangh-VHP pressure, Mahajan replied: “Vajpayee is ensconced in the heights of pristine Manali. Nobody living in the plains can put pressure on someone nestled in the heights. We do not want to give credit to anybody for his statement.”

With the party agreeing to discuss Gujarat, Vajpayee did not mention it today.

About Sunday’s meeting, one section of the party said the modalities and timing of Modi’s replacement would be discussed. Others said the subject of delinking his “removal” from the Gujarat violence would be taken up.

The majority of the members were opposed to changing the Gujarat chief minister for his handling of the post-Godhra situation, though Vajpayee — in his statements from Manali — has indicated that should be the ground.

Sources said a “frank and free” discussion could be expected, especially after the Sangh, too, felt Modi’s removal should not be tied to Godhra and its aftermath.

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