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Mischief murmurs over Atal letter
- Rajnath says poem is old

Bhopal, Sept. 23: L.K. Advani today politely said he hoped Atal Bihari Vajpayee would recover soon and continue to lead the BJP, but speculation continued on the former Prime Minister’s unsigned letter with some people questioning its authenticity.

Whispers about some “mischief” having been played spread so fast that party president Rajnath Singh was asked at his news conference if the letter was fake.

The party spokespersons present at the briefing laughed the question away. Rajnath said Vajpayee himself had handed the letter to him.

The note was delivered to the national executive on Friday after the BJP leadership hinted at Advani being the party’s candidate for Prime Minister. The letter seemed to suggest a comeback by Vajpayee while a poem appended to it made cryptic references to “obstacles” put up by “one’s own”.

Asked what Vajpayee had meant by “apno ke vighno ne ghera (ringed by obstacles created by one’s own people),” Rajnath said the poem was written long ago in the context of problems in the then Janata Party government. The party chief refused to take questions on Advani’s response.

Advani, addressing the conclave on the concluding day, said he was “distressed” that Vajpayee had to miss the conference because of poor health.

He said that “shortly” after his return to Delhi from a trip on September 20 evening, he had called on Vajpayee.

“He told me doctors had advised him to skip Bhopal and take rest. However, I was very happy to find his health had improved considerably since I last met him,” Advani said.

“I, therefore, felt gratified when Rajnathji showed me Atalji’s own message saying that before long he would be in our midst. Let us all pray that this happens very soon and he continues to lead and guide us as in the past.”

BJP leaders dissecting Advani’s remarks cited the stress on “Atalji’s own message” and the “considerable improvement” in Vajpayee’s health within a few hours. Some felt Advani had tried to match Vajpayee’s subtlety in conveying his displeasure.

Most BJP leaders believe that the controversies at the conclave were unseemly. An MP said: “There is not even an iota of doubt that Advani will lead the party in the election and become Prime Minister if the NDA comes to power. But this dispute has been allowed to hurt the party’s image.”

Another MP said Advani had recommended Vajpayee’s name at the peak of his popularity, and now his time had come and everybody should support him.

Rajnath evaded direct replies to questions on the leadership issue but tried to dilute his earlier assertion.

He had described himself as the “bridegroom” at the Lucknow national executive, triggering speculation about his ambitions of becoming Prime Minister. Today he said he had become a bridegroom 30 years ago.

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