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Since 1st March, 1999
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Cap on Atal heir whisper
- Joshi upsets BJP cart, Fernandes controls damage

New Delhi, May 3: The NDA’s reliable troubleshooter once again got into the act as the BJP sought to cap rumours of a dispute regarding prime ministerial succession in the party.

“That question (of a successor to Atal Bihari Vajpayee) is not on our agenda. I do not feel the need for a discussion. We are not facing any crisis,” George Fernandes said today after inaugurating the NDA website at his home here.

The “crisis” was perhaps a reference to Murli Manohar Joshi’s reported remark to a news channel on Saturday that the succession issue was still open.

Joshi had purportedly said there was no question right now of anybody succeeding Vajpayee, but added the party had its number one, two and three and succession would be decided by the “political conditions and ground realities at that point of time”.

Joshi, a member of the BJP pantheon, is a known detractor of another member, .K. Advani, the deputy Prime Minister, widely touted to succeed Vajpayee.

Asked if the alliance had any contingency plan on succession, Fernandes said: “(The) NDA is not facing any crisis to have any contingency plan. In (the) NDA, there is no talk of successor; it’s never been on our agenda.”

He also brushed aside speculation of his candidature for the top post. “There is not a ghost of a chance.”

Faced with a Congress onslaught, BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi played down the succession issue.

“There are no number one, two and three in the party. If there is number one, it is Vajpayee. The NDA leadership has unanimously reposed its faith in the leadership of Vajpayee and only he will lead the government for five years,” Naqvi said.

The Congress said the ruling party was “deliberately misleading” the nation on its agenda and leadership.

“There is a tussle in the BJP on the issue of succession. There is trouble going (on) in the BJP as (to) who succeeds Vajpayee,” Congress spokesperson S. Jaipal Reddy said today.

Congress’ Abhishek Singhvi echoed him, saying Joshi’s reported remark that a successor has not yet been decided spoke of a “marathon war” in the BJP.

Joshi, Reddy claimed, has spoken of a “tussle” following Vajpayee’s remark that his successor has been decided.

“Our charge is that they (the BJP) have misled the nation on the two issues (leadership and agenda of development).”

Naqvi said there was no confusion or discussion in the party at any level over the succession. Asked if Joshi’s remark was a personal view then, the spokesman said: “We don’t consider it any view.”

Fernandes took the opportunity to defend the Prime Minister over his recent slip-ups during campaigning. “The task Atalji was performing at this age, many others would not be able to do so. The PM must be supported for the great job that he is doing.”

Expressing optimism about the NDA’s return to power, Fernandes said the coalition would be structured after the polls.

Asked if the Samajwadi Party could back the coalition, post-polls, he said there are “no permanent friends or enemies in politics”.

“I have never said that Mulayam (Singh Yadav) is coming to the NDA... Mulayam and I have been friends and we have no dispute… But we have not discussed it (joining the NDA),” Fernandes said and accused the media of painting their appearances together in a “political colour”.

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