|We have to think of a new beginning — A.B. Vajpayee
New Delhi/Ahmedabad, June 13: For the first time since the 2002 Gujarat riots and after a shock election defeat, Atal Bihari Vajpayee today openly declared that Narendra Modi’s leadership was under review.
He said the question would be discussed at the BJP national executive on June 23-24 in Mumbai, when the party analyses the reasons for its election loss.
“We are thinking afresh about the situation in Gujarat. The matter will be considered at the Mumbai meeting. All kinds of decisions can be taken,” he was quoted by PTI as saying.
“Yes,” Vajpayee replied when asked if a change of guard might be in the offing. “We have to see what will be the losses and gains in that. We will have to have new policies.”
As if he had a premonition of what was coming, the Gujarat chief minister had said in Ahmedabad earlier in the day at a public ceremony: “If I have done anything wrong, I should be hanged.”
It does not seem as though the BJP, let alone the bigger Sangh parivar, is speaking in one voice on Modi. Party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said “no” when asked if Modi’s days were numbered.
“There is no proposal for a change of leadership in Gujarat,” he said.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of the beneficiaries of the Modi regime, bayed for the blood of Vajpayee and L.K. Advani. VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia suggested that they atone for the defeat by “taking political sanyas” instead of holding Modi responsible.
“Muslim appeasement led to the BJP’s defeat. The Gujarat riots did not affect BJP’s chances, otherwise they would not have got two-thirds majority in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat after the communal violence,” Togadia said.
It was not as if only the radical fringe was sticking up for Modi. Sangh chief K.S. Sudarshan was quoted by a TV channel as saying that a former Prime Minister should be more “restrained” while making public comments.
Vajpayee has a battle on his hands at the Mumbai executive, having once before succumbed to Modi backers immediately after the Gujarat riots.
In that Goa executive in 2002, Vajpayee had not pressed the point to its logical conclusion, though it had been suggested privately that he wanted Modi to go, possibly because there was strong opposition.
This time, he is being upfront about it. “There were two opinions on the question (in Goa). Some people wanted his removal. I was of the same opinion. But the entire responsibility was put on me and I had to take a decision keeping in mind all shades of opinion. I felt that holding elections (in Gujarat) would be more beneficial.”
He later agreed it would have been better if Modi had been dropped. “Whatever damage could have happened has happened. Now, we have to think of a new beginning. Leadership change is also an issue.”
Unlike at the time of the Goa executive, Modi is weak now, with the Congress taking 12 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats. But so is Vajpayee, having lost the national battle.