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Modi sleeps over Atal’s riddle
- Vintage Vajpayee strikes on eve of meet

New Delhi, June 19: Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said the Narendra Modi issue is a “thing of the past”, injecting an element of intrigue to Sangh politics on the eve of a meeting scheduled to discuss the fate of the Gujarat chief minister.

Asked whether he still favoured removing Modi, Vajpayee said this morning: “That has become a thing of the past. Look at the new year and the coming Assembly elections and we have to face them.”

Displaying a trait that became a hallmark during his stint in power, Vajpayee, while leaving for Delhi after a holiday in Himachal Pradesh, did not clarify whether he meant Modi’s reign will be a “thing of the past” or he was referring to the demands for the chief minister’s removal.

Modi, too, avoided a direct reply, asked tonight if he would resign. “I am carrying the responsibility given by five crore people of Gujarat and working in the field of education and energy,” he told STAR News.

Vajpayee’s cryptic comment followed his Thursday statement in which the former Prime Minister said Gujarat will be discussed at the June 23-24 Mumbai national executive and the one last Sunday when he said Modi’s leadership was under review. In between, the BJP had ruled out deliberating on a change of guard and then fell in line with the senior statesman.

The BJP parliamentary board will meet here tomorrow to discuss the party’s poll performance, including the setback in Gujarat.

A flurry of meetings awaited Vajpayee when he landed in Delhi, the last of which was a session with RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi. The RSS leader was as ambiguous as the former Prime Minister. “What he (Vajpayee) said today is final,” Devi said, emerging from an hour-long one-to-one meeting with Vajpayee.

Vajpayee’s meeting with Devi was preceded by 90 minutes of talks between the former Prime Minister and senior party leaders .K Advani and Jaswant Singh.

Today’s comments have fuelled speculation that Vajpayee, BJP hardliners and the Sangh parivar have come to an understanding on Modi’s fate. The RSS is not against Modi’s removal but does not want the ouster to be linked to the Gujarat riots. It feels Modi could be sacked on issues such as his “style of functioning, which is resented by a large chunk of MLAs”.

Party sources said it was not in the BJP’s interest to allow the Modi issue to linger and be in focus while the national executive is in session. The idea of holding the executive in Mumbai is because of impending elections in Maharashtra and the party does not want the Modi issue to eclipse its programmes and policies.

While the Sangh may not object to Modi’s removal on grounds other than the riots, the question whether he should be replaced before or after the Maharashtra elections is yet to be decided.

RSS spokesperson Ram Madhav today again cautioned the BJP not to send a wrong message by targeting Modi. “The party should take care to see it should not send a message that somebody is sacrificed because of Gujarat,” he said.

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