The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee on test after first round win

New Delhi, Oct. 3: Atal Bihari Vajpayee has won the first round in the battle with his detractors in the government and in the Sangh parivar.

What remains to be seen now is whether the Prime Minister can build on the gains made and carry on with his aggressiveness on policy matters, political observers said.

Some within the BJP felt that by his defence of the divestment policy and by asking ministers to behave, Vajpayee has at one stroke reasserted his government’s supremacy. “There is no question now who is in charge,” they said.

Even as the spat between the lobbies for and against reforms is likely to continue, various compromise formulae are being explored.

The Prime Minister, as he hinted yesterday, is not against a compromise as long as divestment is not hampered. The Advani camp also wants selloff to continue.

“It seems now that nobody in the government is opposed to divestment per se. The differences are over the process of divestment and a compromise formula may be worked out to resolve the vexed issue of oil sector divestment,” said a party leader.

There is general horror in the BJP at RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan’s statement that those in the government supporting reforms should be thrown out. Sources said even deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani felt that Sudarshan, as head of the Sangh, should not have taken up divisive issues and should be seen to be above controversies.

Analysts said if Vajpayee comes across as resolute and displays the correct body language he can easily take care of dissent within the government.

“Only when the Prime Minister seems sick and lethargic that people start wondering whether he is really in charge.”

These political observers believe that Vajpayee has to send the right message — that it is he who runs the government and not any group of ministers which chooses to go into a huddle, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch or the VHP. This he did yesterday.

Vajpayee and Advani monitored the RSS chief’s speech on television and felt that what he said ought to be scotched immediately. They were worried that the “unpredictable” disinvestment minister Arun Shourie may not take Sudarshan’s diatribe lying down and may put in his papers. His resignation would have negatively impacted the market.

Sources said Vajpayee was peeved at three of his ministers — George Fernandes, Ram Naik and Murli Manohar Joshi — meeting to discuss “divestment” yesterday morning.

Vajpayee, the sources said, was upset with Fernandes for his activism. The Vajpayee camp felt that by suddenly finding fault with divestment, Fernandes was trying to position himself for a post-poll scenario, while Ram Naik was using the RSS to bolster his position.

The feeling in party circles is that Joshi will soon scurry back to the Prime Minister to repent. It is also believed that Fernandes and Naik will take the hint and will not push the matter too far.

Tackling the parivar hawks could pose a bigger problem, though. The fear is that the government’s ties with Sangh outfits will deteriorate further.

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