Mumbai, June 23: Atal Bihari Vajpayee ratcheted up tension over leadership and political direction in the Bharatiya Janata Party today with his enigmatic statement that he was “fed up”.
Vajpayee’s policies, leadership and the moderate direction in which he was trying to steer the party have come under severe criticism over the last two days at the party’s national executive.
While releasing a book on his government’s achievements at Mumbai’s Shanmukhananda Hall, Vajpayee let slip how upset he was when his own colleagues were attacking him. “When our people are hitting out at me, this book will come in handy,” he exclaimed.
The stunned silence that followed was broken by slogans in Vajpayee’s favour: “Abki baari Atal Bihari (It’s Vajpayee’s turn)”. There is an election due in Maharashtra in September and party workers were expressing their desire to have him at the helm of the campaign.
The former Prime Minister gave a wry smile and said in Marathi, “Ataa baari nako, pushkal zhala (No more turns, I am fed up)”.
There was immediate speculation whether this was Vajpayee’s way of making way for another leader or whether he was only expressing his displeasure at being targeted.
Yesterday in his address to the national executive, party president M. Venkaiah Naidu had argued against the “virus of individualism” without, however, naming Vajpayee.
Today, it was close associate L.K. Advani’s turn to attempt to bury his legacy.
Vajpayee has often used statements lending themselves to ambiguous interpretation in the past to consolidate control over the party. But this strategy worked when he was the Prime Minister and the threat of quitting would have led to turmoil.
Today, party stalwarts and Sangh organisations are ranged against him and it is doubtful if subtle hints like “fed up” will be as effective.
Vajpayee is scheduled to address the party leaders tomorrow when a firmer indication of his intentions or a clear expounding of his views may come.
There was no doubt today, however, that even Advani has had his turn at taking on the Vajpayee line and blaming it for the electoral debacle.
The failure of the BJP to blend good governance with the “prudent politics” of consolidating its Hindutva constituency was the primary cause of its “unexpected” defeat, Advani said. The BJP, he suggested, paid for ignoring its Hindutva support base.
That this was essentially an argument against the Vajpayee line was evident when Advani lamented: “Our opponents in the country called us a ‘Hindutva government’. The rest of the world recognised us as a ‘Hindutva government’. However, the only two entities that did not do so were our ideological ‘parivar’ and ourselves.”
Claiming that the party provided good governance while in power, Advani, however, suggested that it diluted its branding with the very people and organisations which catapulted it to power. The net result — the key supporters were alienated and the advantage of trying to expand the party’s base remained dubious.
Although Advani began by praising Vajpayee (“We are blessed with the leadership of Shri Atalji”), he essentially sought to bury his legacy. He criticised attempts to expand the party’s base at the expense of confusing its core “ideological constituency”.