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Advani sleeps on lukewarm letter

New Delhi, June 8: Lal Krishna Advani today told party colleagues pressing him to withdraw his resignation as BJP president that he would let them know by tomorrow morning.

But sources close to him said Advani was upset the BJP had not defended his comments on Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

“What is new in this resolution'” he is believed to have asked M. Venkaiah Naidu and other colleagues who went to him with a resolution passed by the parliamentary board, rejecting his resignation. It had no reference to the laudatory comments that triggered Advani’s resignation or to his Pakistan visit.

The BJP leader also conveyed his displeasure over the office-bearers’ “hesitation” to defend the “achievements” of his visit, sources said. But Naidu, the party’s senior vice-president, denied this and said the meeting’s agenda was only to persuade Advani to withdraw his resignation.

A general secretary said: “He said he will think about this resolution and let his response be known tomorrow morning.”

The parliamentary board and the office-bearers will assemble once Advani’s response is known and chart the next course of action.

As things stand, there appears to be little meeting ground. BJP sources said: “There is no way we can support the Jinnah comments.”

While in Pakistan last week, Advani had praised Jinnah’s speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, as secular and had called him a great man.

Sources said Atal Bihari Vajpayee offered a “window of opening” by emphasising Advani should not be allowed to quit in such circumstances and that the Jinnah controversy could be debated “in due course”.

With Vajpayee pulling his weight behind Advani, the parliamentary board appealed to him to continue. “The party has benefited enormously from his leadership and needs his leadership in the future also,” it said. After the 10-minute meeting, the members, barring Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi ' who had met Advani separately ' went to meet him with the resolution.

Sources said Vajpayee expressed the fear that if Advani left, the RSS and the VHP would have scored a tactical victory, making it easier for the hardliners to “hijack” the party and steer it back to Hindutva, alienating it from the NDA. The BJP would then be doomed to stay in the Opposition for years, he warned.

RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan today said Advani had done good work as BJP president, but refused to comment on his resignation.

Without naming Togadia, the BJP resolution condemned the “highly objectionable” language by some VHP leaders about Advani.

Naidu and the general secretaries met again to take stock. Among the scenarios discussed were:

• If Advani refuses to dilute/retract his remarks, what face-saver would the party find to let him stay' A second resolution could be passed to emphasise Advani’s “nationalist” credentials and “distance” his leadership from the Pakistan visit.

• If he refuses to budge, who will take over' Some feel Advani is using the time till tomorrow to anoint a person of his choice. It could be Naidu.

• Make “peace” with the RSS by projecting this as an Advani-VHP showdown.

• Attempt damage-control by seeking the resignation of the secretary to Advani, Sudheendra Kulkarni, who is believed to have drafted the comments on Jinnah.

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