The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Modi past, Maharashtra future

New Delhi, June 21: All of last week, he engaged in an unusual skirmish with the BJP on Gujarat and whether Narendra Modi should go. Yesterday, he went along with the majority that the chief minister would stay and that the national executive, in its meeting starting tomorrow, would look at the “tasks ahead” than at the past.

So, has the BJP’s tallest leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, been bludgeoned into submission by the hardliners again'

Judging from what general secretary Pramod Mahajan said in Mumbai today, Vajpayee will embark on the new chapter of “looking ahead” with a meeting with Bal Thackeray. The Shiv Sena boss has made it clear that the Maharashtra elections will be fought on the communal plank.

Mahajan said a big issue would be the “appeasement of minorities by the Congress and NCP in view of the killing of Ishrat Jahan Sheikh (in a recent Ahmedabad encounter) and their attempts to politicise the death”.

BJP sources said the decision to “defer” Modi’s sack was prompted by the Maharashtra elections and the strategy to achieve a communal polarisation. “If we go to town making Ishrat Jahan an issue and then get rid of Modi for the reasons that Vajpayee cited in Manali, it will be counter-productive.”

The view at the moment is that if the BJP-Sena combine wins the Maharashtra elections, Modi would stay because the victory would vindicate the triumph of the “Hindutva” line. If it loses, he would go and the party would be forced to fall back on Vajpayee’s line of “moderation and secularism”.

Like Arjuna focused on the eye of the fish, the BJP would concentrate on Maharashtra and “nothing else”, the sources said.

Congress sources conceded the election outcome could alter prevailing equations at the Centre. If the BJP wins, its present, past and prospective allies could look at it with renewed respect. If it loses, it would strengthen the United Progressive Alliance.

After the Lok Sabha defeat, NDA allies Telugu Desam, Trinamul Congress and the Janata Dal (United) had suggested Gujarat was a big reason. Asked why the BJP had decided to swim against that opinion, the sources said: “Hard line and moderation are a matter of perception. If we succeed, the hardest of political ideology appears palatable because everyone wants to be on the winning side. And if we lose, then hard line becomes a convenient bogey.”

In Maharashtra, the BJP was clear that only the Sena mattered, not “secular” allies.

Admitting the BJP was steering a two-horse chariot, sources said the Modi episode achieved two ends. One, it helped Vajpayee reinforce his “secular” credentials because it signalled that he fought against Modi till the last but was overruled. This would come in handy if the BJP had to cobble an alliance of conflicting ideologies in future.

Two, it reassured the BJP and RSS cadre that the party continued to be loyal to Hindutva.


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