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Scent of new chief in new year
- When Advani leaves BJP president’s chair, Atal to get lunar crown

New Delhi, Dec. 15: The BJP looks set to have a new president on New Year’s Day.

Sources said L.K. Advani is likely to stay at the helm through the BJP national executive and the national council meetings ' both will be held in Mumbai from December 26 to 30.

“No new president will be elected before or during the national council. It is not the appropriate occasion to seek someone’s resignation,” a source said.

The council is being held to mark the silver jubilee of the BJP. “This is celebration time. After December 30, anyone is free to do what he wants,” the source added.

The sources said Advani’s successor would hold office for a year because the life of the present national council ends in 2007. “This council cannot elect or ratify its president beyond its life,” a source said, adding that the leader chosen as chief could be re-elected and serve another term.

Consultations at various levels ' with the RSS and within the BJP brass ' are expected to be completed before the Mumbai meetings and the announcement of the new president’s name will merely be a “formality”.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan, who belongs to Mumbai, will host a lunch meeting for the central leaders on December 31. That day, or soon after, Advani is likely to formally put in his papers.

In the sweepstakes for the top post, there seems to be a question mark over M. Venkaiah Naidu because of a Rs 22-crore tax evasion case allegedly involving the family of his daughter-in-law Radha.

Naidu, who was rehabilitated as vice-president after he was out on a limb for over a year, was hoping to step into Advani’s shoes on the plea that his tenure as president had been aborted midway.

Sources said the race has now narrowed down to Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Mahajan. The presence of Atal Bihari Vajpayee at Singh’s Varanasi roadshow yesterday has been interpreted as a “politically loaded” signal and the former Prime Minister’s “blessings” would count when Advani’s successor is picked.

Eager to project the Mumbai congregation as a “grand show of unity”, Mahajan has lined up several items to serve on the party’s platter. The highlights of the menu are:

A film on the first convention right after the party came into being in 1980. Mahajan had scripted the film, which is deemed a must-see as many of today’s heavyweights were not around then

A play on Shivaji’s life and times by Babasaheb Purandare, an authority on the Chhatrapati

A public meeting in Shivaji Park.

The BJP also has plans to bring out a newspaper on the days of the session. Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar of Page Three fame was commissioned to make a film on 25 years of the BJP, the cassettes of which would be given to the delegates on the concluding day of the five-day programme.

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