The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani icing on Naidu cake

Raipur, July 20: If a final stamp was required to reinstate Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s authority over not just the government but also the BJP, the Raipur national executive provided it.

It began with BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu’s hosanna and ended with L.K. Advani’s praise and a repeat performance from Naidu.

While officially maintaining the executive did not mention Sonia Gandhi even once, the BJP wished to define the next poll battle as an Atal vs Sonia one by turning the spotlight on the Prime Minister’s persona.

Although the written text did not mention it, party sources said deputy Prime Minister Advani began his concluding address by saying how the BJP would seek a mandate in 2004 on a “positive” note by highlighting the government’s performance under Vajpayee.

Advani, sources said, also attributed the success of Pokhran II to Vajpayee’s stewardship and commitment to make India a nuclear power. He commended his “courage” for undertaking the nuclear tests despite international pressure.

Addressing the press after the meeting concluded, Naidu repeated that the party’s poll campaign would be “NDA-centric and Vajpayee-centric”.

“We have a great leader with experience and expertise, who is tested and trusted. We want to project a leader who will get us a positive mandate and give the Congress its fourth successive defeat,” he said.

The BJP took the opportunity to criticise Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy’s description of Vajpayee as an “ageing and ailing” leader.

Party general secretary Pramod Mahajan said: “Indian culture respects its elders, because of their age, wisdom, experience and contribution to the nation. It seems that the Congress has not only imposed an inexperienced leader of foreign origin, who has (made) no contribution towards the nation worth mentioning, but also discarded the culture of India.”

The national executive meetings and councils held after the NDA came to power reflected the tensions in the BJP in some form or the other.

The Gandhinagar council of May 1998 saw newly-elected chief Kushabhau Thakre straining at the leash to assert the party’s supremacy over the government.

The Bangalore executive of January 1999 saw a proxy show of belligerence by Vajpayee to counter the Sangh’s version of swadeshi economics and attacks on Christians. Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons were burnt to death in Orissa just months earlier. But Vajpayee’s effort boomeranged.

Raipur, however, was different because Vajpayee, for the first time, did some plain speaking with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and his own party. While he addressed the VHP’s misgivings on being kept out of the recent Ayodhya negotiations, he clarified the tangle would be resolved in the way he thought best.

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