The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Leader and line, Atal all the way

New Delhi/Mumbai, June 20: The BJP emerged from its chintan baithak today carrying the unmistakable stamp of Atal Bihari Vajpayee on policy, sealed by a eulogy delivered by Lal Krishna Advani to a “great leader”.

He described Vajpayee as “vajradapi kathorani, mruduni kusumadapi — which means he is as strong as the diamond when firmness is demanded but also as soft as a flower”.

Summing up the outcome of the session, party president M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “Leadership clear, comradeship clear, companion clear, thrust clear”.

It means the end of the leadership controversy, at least for now. And it implies the victory of the Vajpayee line on virtually every matter. The Lok Sabha polls will be held at the appointed time — in the latter half of 2004 — the BJP will walk with its allies, even try to increase their ranks, and a hint that governance and development and not Hindutva will be the theme song.

Part of this was confirmed by Advani himself. “The greatest strength of the BJP is that we have a great leader and we have continued to remain wedded to our principle of collective deliberation and decision-making.”

Few in the BJP had doubted that Vajpayee would allow his authority to be undermined — as had appeared after the setbacks he suffered at the time of the Cabinet reshuffle last month. The so-called chintan baithak settled whatever doubts there might have been.

As the party went into the Mumbai session, there was a covert effort to push what was loosely labelled the “Advani line” — whether the next Lok Sabha polls should be brought forward, if the BJP should have its own manifesto to reinforce its commitment to Hindutva and if it should contest the maximum number of seats and junk some allies.

Naidu settled the question of the timing of polls, saying: “The BJP’s top leadership feels that we must continue with the tempo of development till elections are held in the latter part of next year.”

The BJP renewed its commitment to the allies. Naidu said: “We are not cutting ties with any of our coalition partners. In fact, by the time we go to elections, we may have more partners in the NDA coalition.”

Stability, national security, development and good governance will be the bases on which the coalition will seek a new mandate, Advani said.

Hindutva was on a low key. The BJP only stuck to its stand against illegal immigration and conversions — it suggested that every state enact a preventive law — and for a wider consensus on cow slaughter ban.

Despite the steady barrage on the party and the government from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad over Ayodhya, Naidu carefully avoided criticism, picking what is common between the two sides: nationalism.

“The only difference is that while the VHP talks of Hindu interests, we talk of a pan-Indian interest. They can say what they want (but) we don’t have to necessarily agree with all that.”

There was full backing for the Sankaracharya’s attempt at a settlement, though it was described as an “independent” initiative.

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