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Atal neither tired nor retired

New Delhi, Oct. 28: L .K. Advani's elevation as the BJP president and his decision to continue as the leader of Opposition were in effect a not-so-veiled message to Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he should call it a day.

But when the former Prime Minister made the concluding speech at the BJP national council yesterday, he said nothing to suggest that it was farewell time.

BJP sources said they expected him to throw up his hands and announce he would not contest another election.

They were in for a surprise. Vajpayee harped on the United Progressive Alliance government's 'contradictions' and 'instability' and urged the party to be in readiness to face a mid-term poll.

Should it happen, who in the BJP would lead' He was tantalisingly silent on the question.

Vajpayee's speech, replete with open-ended statements so typical of him, had one clear message: that like the rest of the BJP, he had accepted Advani's leadership and for the present, Advani was the unquestioned supremo.

This was a throwback to 1996, when Advani unquestioningly endorsed the RSS decision to project Vajpayee as the prime ministerial candidate in the elections that year.

But yesterday's message was worded so cryptically that the gathering wondered when Vajpayee was serious and when not. For instance, he rubbed in that Advani was heading the party for the fifth time since its inception in 1980, which a section of the BJP and the RSS did not relish, according to the sources.

He virtually said Advani was the de facto president when M. Venkaiah Naidu was heading the party. 'He was the president without being the president. If there was a crisis or a difficult moment and there was a question of what to do and who to turn to, the answer was Advani. He will show the way,' the former Prime Minister said.

Vajpayee served as party president for two consecutive terms from 1980 to 1984 when the BJP was down to its lowest tally of two seats. After that came Advani, never to look back.

Barring two years under Murli Manohar Joshi, Advani had an uninterrupted run of the BJP until it came to power at the Centre.

But whenever there was an organisational crisis, it was to Advani the party turned on the plea that Vajpayee never 'cared' for nitty-gritties.

This argument was often contested by neutral voices in the BJP that felt Vajpayee was never approached to head the party again; if he had, he may have considered the offer.

Vajpayee used for Advani a slogan that was associated with him ' 'tried and tested'. 'He is tried and tested. He combines intellect and diligence in his persona.'

Advani, said Vajpayee, is M.S. Golwalkar (the late RSS supremo), Deen Dayal Upadhyaya (Jan Sangh ideologue) and Dattopant Thengadi (founder of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Singh) rolled into one.

'When Thengadi died recently, a friend said the organisation has lost somebody valuable. How will problems be solved' he asked.

'Earlier, when Guruji (Golwalkar) was no more,' he continued, 'Upadhyaya was always available for advice. Thengadi took his place. I said there is one answer and that is Advani; he will give us advice. I am not able to flatter him adequately because he is right here.'

There was more of the same. 'By putting the party in his hands, we can relax. But Advani will not allow you to relax,' he said.

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