The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Puzzle and potshot for BJP

New Delhi, April 18: The BJP was stumped twice on a single day.

First, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee left the party wondering what he meant by extending a hand of friendship to Pakistan — with certain riders — in his public address at Srinagar.

Then, his deputy L.K. Advani’s former political secretary, K.N. Govindacharya, hinted at a press conference in Jabalpur that he would part ways with the party before the next round of Assembly elections.

He also forecast a victory for the Congress’ Digvijay Singh in the coming Assembly election in Madhya Pradesh, where Govindacharya’s erstwhile associate Uma Bharti is expected to run for chief minister.

In both cases, the BJP’s gut reaction was to make the best of a bad situation: it “clarified” Vajpayee’s remarks and downplayed Govindacharya’s potshots.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said the party was opposed to talks with Islamabad and Jammu and Kashmir terrorist groups. “There is no question of talks as the time is not yet ripe (and) till Islamabad stops encouraging militants,” said Naidu. “There is no question of any softness towards terrorist groups.”

The BJP was equally disconcerted by Vajpayee’s praise for the People’s Democratic Party-Congress regime and his promise that the Centre would work in tandem with it to ensure the state’s development and root out unemployment.

Sources recalled that Vajpayee had endorsed a resolution adopted just two weeks ago in the BJP national executive which blasted the Mufti government for being unable to stem terrorism and prevent the killing of Kashmiri Pundits. Making a barbed comment on the PDP-Congress’ “healing touch” policy, Naidu had asked: “This healing touch is for whom — the victims or the militants'”

Sources feared that lack of clarity on foreign policy would not square up with the BJP’s efforts to revive the “hard Hindutva” line in the election-bound states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and could even be counter-productive.

RSS spokesman Ram Madhav seemed at sea when asked to respond to Vajpayee’s address. “Vajpayee has always been magnanimous in offering his hand of friendship. But the experience has always been very disappointing. Let us see how Pakistan responds,” he said.

The BJP was non-committal on Govindacharya’s hint that he would quit the party. “There is no need to comment on it,” said Naidu.

In what seemed like a parting shot, Advani’s former political secretary predicted that the Congress would be voted back to power in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi after the November elections.

He was all praise for Digvijay Singh’s administration and said: “If everything goes well, he will again be in the saddle, may be by a slender majority.”

Govindacharya added that Sheila Dixit enjoyed a definite edge over the BJP in Delhi.

He criticised Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayavati for filing cases against Mulayam Singh Yadav.

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