The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Party heat rising on Venkaiah

New Delhi, Aug. 26: The campaign for BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu’s ouster has gained momentum both in his home state Andhra Pradesh and in Delhi.

A senior minister, who was feeling marginalised after the recent Cabinet and organisational shuffle in which deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani got his way, met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee over the last few days and conveyed his concern over the land-grab allegation against Naidu, BJP sources said.

The minister emphasised that it would be difficult for the BJP to go into the impending Assembly elections under Naidu and counter corruption charges. Vajpayee heard him out “patiently”, the sources added.

Voices from within the Sangh parivar are also rising against controversies the government has got embroiled in. VHP joint general secretary Onkar Bhave was quoted as saying from Kanpur that most BJP workers were “highly dissatisfied” with the NDA government and prophesied that in the long run they could quit the party.

In Andhra, reports said that in the three-day meeting of the BJP state executive last week, slogans were raised against Naidu and his effigy was burnt. The meeting was attended by former BJP president Bangaru Laxman, who had to quit after the Tehelka tapes but was reportedly “convinced” that Naidu was behind his ouster because of a long-time political rivalry.

Andhra BJP sources said such was the anti-Naidu sentiment after the land scam exposure that he was forced to flag off a new train between Nellore, his constituency, and Chennai yesterday amid tight security.

According to BJP sources here, Naidu’s mentor Advani was “forced” to admit this was not what he had expected of Naidu. In the tussle for the BJP president’s post — after it was clear that Jana Krishnamurthi would have to go — three names were considered: Naidu, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley.

Sources said: “The choice was left to Advani since by then Vajpayee had decided to beat a tactical retreat from party matters. Advani did not trust Mahajan and was ambiguous about Jaitley. He zeroed in on Naidu, thinking he was the person he could rely on the most to control the party by proxy. It was a shock to him when the charges were levelled against Naidu.”

While just a couple of weeks ago it had appeared as though Advani was on top of the situation, the Naidu controversy has left him a “little vulnerable”, the sources said. The chink in the armour was exploited by his detractors to scuttle Advani loyalist Uma Bharti’s anointment as Madhya Pradesh BJP president.

There was more bad news for Advani when a section of the RSS came out against another of his proteges, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Writing in the Sangh mouthpiece Panchajanya, RSS spokesman M.G. Vaidya, who is close to human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, praised Shankersinh Vaghela for “uniting” the Congress as he spoke of the “infighting” within the BJP in a signed article.

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