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TV bahu ties Modi in soap opera

Dec. 12: Smriti Z. Irani, the soap queen who became the BJP's showpiece campaigner, today leapt out of the television screen and landed the party in a primetime domestic situation.

But by the time the show ended, television's First Bahu learned that bachelor Narendra Modi is made of sterner stuff than the mother-in-law, nieces, sons and other assorted family fixtures her character Tulsi Virani takes on valiantly in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.

Smriti stunned the party this evening by asking Modi to step down as chief minister, something only A.B. Vajpayee ' a name she repeatedly referred to today ' had come close to suggesting in the BJP.

Never lacking in drama, the actor set a deadline for Modi to step down, failing which she would go on a fast-unto-death from December 25 ' Vajpayee's birthday.

Recovering from the initial shock, the BJP leadership read the riot act to her: retract the statement and apologise or face the music.

Tulsi then stepped off the stage and Smriti the politician stepped in to sign on the dotted line.

'This afternoon, I had made a statement in Surat seeking the resignation of Modi. But I realised as a responsible member of the party I should not have said this. So I am withdrawing the statement made earlier,' she said in a statement late tonight.

The retreat came after Smriti, who belongs to the Maharashtra BJP, had a meeting with Gopinath Munde, the party's state unit chief.

The latest controversy erupted on the BJP, whose brushes with matters related to television have been disastrous ever since losing power, at a time when it was trying to put behind it the Uma Bharti episode which was telecast live.

In the evening, Smriti told reporters in Surat that Modi's decision to cling to office was 'extremely shocking and appalling', adding: 'I expected that he would take a high moral ground and say 'fine, I will step down'.'

Smriti did not cite any immediate reason for her demand but appeared to link it to the Gujarat riots. She said Modi's resignation alone would restore to Gujarat and Vajpayee the 'pride and glory which they genuinely deserved'. 'To prove once and for all that we are a secular party which thinks in the national interest, any step in that direction should be welcomed,' she added.

The actor recalled how 'hurt' she felt when she heard Vajpayee say 'if there is one blot on my name, it is Narendra Modi'. I was very surprised that he did not give up his chair after such a statement.'

BJP sources, however, pointed out that Vajpayee had not made such an explicit statement about Modi. The closest he came to censuring him was to remind him of 'raj dharma' (the morality of statecraft) after the Gujarat violence.

Sources in Gujarat said Modi's refusal to give a Rajya Sabha ticket to Smriti could have prompted the outburst but others refused to buy this. They said 'something serious' must have happened to provoke her.

The bahu blast coincided with a prophetic sermon of BJP chief L.K. Advani. While the Smriti show was rolling in Gujarat, Advani was issuing an appeal in Delhi to stem the 'Congressisation' of the party and uphold 'moral' standards.

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