The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Joke or jolt, wonders BJP

Mumbai, June 23: The BJP’s top leadership wanted Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make a cracking speech and give a grand finale to its two-day national executive in Mumbai.

The former Prime Minister cracked the whip instead with his “I am fed up” shocker.

As the stunned BJP leaders sharing the stage with Vajpayee -- L.K. Advani, Venkaiah Naidu, Pramod Mahajan, Ram Naik, Gopinath Munde and Jaywantiben Mehta -- stared at each and tried to react suitably, he quietly sat down turned the pages of a book on him that was launched today.

The rally was called to commemorate the death anniversary of Jan Sangh leader Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and coincided with the closing of the BJP’s two-day national executive at Powai.

But the meeting that was called to thrash out the reasons for the BJP’s poll debacle and arrive at solutions for the future ended with a far greater problem than the one it already has in hand -- the continuance of Narendra Modi as chief minister in Gujarat.

After BJP president Naidu’s pro-Hindutva speech and the high pitch that went with it, Vajpayee, when his turn came, was soft and brief. But the wistful air was palpable.

This is the second time Vajpayee has hinted at retirement from politics.

Earlier, after Naidu’s controversial statement calling Vajpayee vikas purush and Advani loh purush, the BJP had been thrown into a tizzy when the former Prime Minister struck back in his inimitable way.

Learning of Naidu’s speech, Vajpayee, who had just come back after a foreign trip, shot back saying the elections would be fought under Advani’s leadership.

Na tired, na retired, chalo vijay ki aur Advaniji ke netritva mein,” Vajpayee had famously said, sending a clear signal to a panicky party that he was ready to continue but would rather Advani lead the election battle.

Naidu immediately backtracked and made an urgent, hurried statement saying that Vajpayee, as the supreme leader of the party, and only Vajpayee will lead the party in the polls.

That had sorted out the matter then, but this time it is different. The BJP has lost the elections and Vajpayee’s word does not appear to carry the weight it once did in the party.

Naidu has time and again stated that though Vajpayee is still the “tallest leader’’, Modi, who the former Prime Minister wants removed, will stay for the time being.

A senior BJP leader, however, dismissed Vajpayee’s “fed-up” statement, which has all but overshadowed the deliberations at the executive. “Didn’t you see he was laughing when he said that'’’ the former Union minister asked. “It was a repartee meant for the people’s consumption. Humour tha.’’

But few else in the party were laughing.

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