The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP falls in Atal sideline

New Delhi, June 16: The “Vajpayee line” on Narendra Modi might prevail, after all.

BJP spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi today said the issue of replacing Modi as Gujarat chief minister will be discussed on the sidelines of the national executive in Mumbai next week.

Naqvi’s mentor and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu stressed there was no question of “bypassing” Atal Bihari Vajpayee and that he was the “tallest” leader in the party. Just two days ago, Naidu had rejected Vajpayee’s statement that a change of guard in Gujarat would be discussed at the Mumbai meeting.

Although nobody in the BJP would say even privately if the move will lead to Modi’s removal, RSS sources said they believed his ouster could take place “sooner” than expected. The momentum for reversing the pro-Modi tide in the BJP came after L.K. Advani returned from Nainital last night.

RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi met him for an hour this morning. Once Advani made it clear he and Vajpayee agreed that Modi should go, Devi — who brokered peace between the RSS and the BJP when the NDA was in power — pleaded with him to “somehow delink” the ouster from the Gujarat riots.

Devi reportedly said the RSS had no problem if the chief minister was sacked for his “conduct and style of functioning”. Advani concurred with his view.

Advani also discussed the attack mounted by the VHP on Vajpayee and himself with Devi and they agreed that “hasty” utterances must be avoided.

Devi will meet Vajpayee when he returns from his holiday in Manali on June 19. Together with Advani, they could discuss the timing and modalities of Modi’s replacement before leaving for Mumbai, sources said.

The sources said the mood swing on Modi would not have happened had Vajpayee not conveyed his anger and hurt at Naidu’s show of defiance and RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan’s verbal assault. The former Prime Minister stressed it was important to keep the NDA intact and not allow “secular-minded” parties like the TDP, Trinamul Congress and the Janata Dal (United) to drift away because of Modi.

A chastened Naidu today said: “We are a democracy. There may be views. Once a decision is taken, everybody abides by it.”

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