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Before sunset, sweat pours

New Delhi, April 6: In what appears to have become a day for goodbyes, from Left to Right, Atal Bihari Vajpayee today signalled to his party that he was ready to retire.

'I feel unhappy because these days I can work up to a point and no more. This whole programme today got delayed on my account. I am sorry for this and I give you all my very best wishes,' he told the BJP's national council.

Vajpayee was to speak at 4.30 pm, but arrived an hour late. Ambedkar Stadium, the venue, is a poor cousin to the air-conditioned Talkatora Stadium, where BJP functions used to be held when Vajpayee was Prime Minister. The sun took its toll on everyone at the open stadium. Vajpayee had been there all morning.

'Under Advani's leadership, the party is moving ahead rapidly and will proceed even faster,' he said.

In the 10-minute speech were echoes of another address, made in 2003, after then party chief Venkaiah Naidu had sought to belittle him as 'vikas purush' as opposed to 'loh purush' Advani.

At a reception where both were present, Vajpayee had said he was confident the BJP would soar to new heights under Advani. But ' and here was the catch ' he said he was neither 'tired nor retired'.

Today, the sting was missing.

There was another difference: Vajpayee's speech two years ago had sent the BJP into a tizzy. It needed him to keep the NDA together. Naidu had stopped just short of falling at his feet. Advani had blanched.

Both were on the dais when he spoke today, but neither looked ruffled.

But the last word was Vajpayee's. 'Among our workers, I see a new surge of enthusiasm. If there is a lack of enthusiasm, it is' at the top.'

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