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Party keeps Atal waiting
Modi stays for now in setback to ouster bid

New Delhi, June 20: Narendra Modi is not being axed as chief minister of Gujarat immediately.

After a meeting of the BJP parliamentary board, party president M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “There is no proposal to change the chief minister at this juncture.” He left the question of when Modi would be asked to go unanswered.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is believed to have brought up the issue at the meeting, after having initiated what looked like a process to oust Modi while vacationing at Manali seven days ago.

Naidu confirmed that the matter was discussed by the 10-member parliamentary board. “All issues were discussed, our government’s performance, Gujarat… everything,” he said.

At least one part of the denouement of the week-long drama, where Modi earned a respite, appeared to have gone against the lead actor since Vajpayee could not have the chief minister sacked rightaway. It is not known, however, if immediate dismissal was his objective.

It is possible that having got the party to agree to discuss Modi’s removal, Vajpayee is prepared to wait for his day of victory.

.K. Advani, too, wants Modi’s dismissal and the majority of senior leaders hold the same opinion. It was the timing and the reason that were matters of contention. From today’s meeting, the party sends out the message that though Modi would go, the timing is not now. And that means he does not leave because of the Gujarat riots and because Vajpayee is saying so.

The BJP will hold a “chintan baithak” (introspective session) in August when it is expected to take a decision on Modi.

Party sources said there were three reasons for the reprieve.

First, the Maharashtra elections (due in September) and the fear that his dismissal may alienate the BJP’s Hindutva constituency. General secretary Pramod Mahajan, in charge of Maharashtra, is believed to have stressed the point at the meeting.

The argument was that when the party is set to use the Ahmedabad encounter to question the Congress’ commitment to national security and win over Maharashtra voters, removing Modi for the post-Godhra violence would be counter-productive.

A Maharashtrian college girl and three other alleged Lashkar-e-Toiba militants were gunned down by police while apparently on a mission to kill Modi.

Naidu said: “The way in which the non-NDA parties are competing with each other with regard to the cover-up of the terrorist menace and condemning people who performed with responsibility is not in the national interest.”

Second, with Modi and the Gujarat government entangled in legal cases over riot-related incidents, his sacking may amount to “indirect admission of guilt and complicity” and help the prosecution, the sources said.

“We do not even have our government so the party is duty-bound to stand by Modi on this at least,” they added.

Third, there was the larger ideological rationale that “claiming a leader’s head for communal violence strikes at the core of the BJP’s philosophy”.

The sources, however, ruled out Modi consolidating in the interregnum “because a majority of the state BJP and even the RSS is against him”.

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