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Since 1st March, 1999
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Bow-out jab at BJP old boys’ club

New Delhi, June 15: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has introduced a new dimension to the Vajpayee-Modi face-off by demanding a retirement age for politicians and a “younger” leadership at the head of the BJP.

The VHP’s obvious choice was 55-year-old Narendra Modi, although it was careful not to pitch the demand too high and give the impression it is fanning the crisis in the BJP.

Addressing reporters today, VHP international president Vishnu Hari Dalmiya said: “Every profession sets a retirement age. Politicians should also have one. The US constitution is clear that no president can serve more than two terms. This is to prevent one individual from ruling the country forever.”

Although he did not take names, the reference seemed to be to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, both of whom the VHP had earlier said should take retirement from public life.

Dalmiya is 75, four years younger than Vajpayee. The “young” men who shared the platform with him were pushing 80 or on the wrong side of it. VHP working president Ashok Singhal is 78, as is Onkar Bhave, the joint general secretary, while the snow-white-bearded Acharya Giriraj Kishore — the first to demand that Vajpayee and Advani should take sanyas — is 85.

Asked if sanyas was not meant for the self-styled social workers of the VHP, Singhal said: “I have already handed over the baton of leadership to a young man, Praveen Togadia. My health does not permit me to travel extensively, so he’s doing all the leg work.”

Singhal pointed out how Hinduism had enshrined sanyas as a way of life in the scriptures. “It is not my job to say who should take sanyas and who shouldn’t, but there is a need for change in the policies and leadership (of the BJP). It is their responsibility to identify and promote young leaders because there are a lot of young people who look for inspiration in young leaders.”

Asked whether Modi was the VHP’s choice, he replied: “I am no one to say anything but Modi is supported by a large section of society.”

In his opening statement, Singhal was far more unequivocal about backing Modi. He said: “Yesterday, a certain individual in the BJP issued a statement holding the Gujarat CM responsible for the defeat in the elections. He said no action was taken (in the post-Godhra phase) against him. This statement is baseless. The elections were fought under the leadership of Vajpayee and Advani and they should take responsibility for the defeat. They don’t have the courage to accept defeat but they should be large-hearted.”

The VHP — which was often at the receiving end of Vajpayee’s “moderation” when it agitated on the Ayodhya temple — gave vent to its bottled-up feelings about the NDA regime and maintained that the electoral reverses were because of the “compromise” on Ayodhya.

“He (Vajpayee) gave up Hindutva issues. Not only was the Ram temple issue forfeited, there was an effort to suppress our movement. This had a negative impact on people,” Singhal said.

He refused to blame Modi for the loss of 10 seats in Gujarat which, in a sense, turned the Congress’ fortunes around. “They (BJP) lost Gujarat because of the contradictory statements on Gujarat, the fatwa they got the imam of Jama Masjid to issue. Not a single Hindu dharmacharya was approached by them. When it comes to appeasing minorities, the BJP is several steps ahead of the Congress. People felt the BJP was the B-team of the Congress.”

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