The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal’s turn to grin and bear
- Yesterday’s ‘fed-up’ becomes forgettable joke today

Mumbai, June 24: Off-again Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on-again today putting to rest speculation about renouncing active politics because of internal criticism directed against him within the BJP.

If any evidence was needed of the acuteness of his isolation within the BJP, it was available in the way he tried to explain away his remarks of last night to the party’s national executive about having had enough of politics. He claimed that the remarks were made in jest and promised to campaign vigorously for the coming Maharashtra elections.

Crying “wolf” clearly did not have the same consequences as in the past. Although party leaders made the ritual bow towards him as “the tallest leader” of the BJP, there was no scrambling to appease him. It seems extremely doubtful whether Vajpayee this time round has been able to consolidate his hold over the party, as he was able to do during earlier crises.

The party seems to have begun a determined backward march towards its Hindutva roots and Vajpayee’s moderate and inclusive line has been virtually rejected after its failure at the hustings. If he wanted Narendra Modi to be “punished” for the Gujarat riots, then it was Vajpayee who had to step back and not Modi.

Party president M. Venkaiah Naidu did tell the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which had made some caustic comments about the importance of renunciation (“sanyas”) in this context, to keep out of the internal affairs of the BJP. But this was more protection of his turf than a stout defence of Vajpayee.

The BJP, unforgiving in defeat, may tolerate Vajpayee; but the frontier of control has shifted away from him. However, the party itself has perhaps emerged weaker after a three-day deliberation on its electoral defeat at its national executive.

In his address today, Vajpayee claimed that his love for Marathi seemed to have “robbed the shine off the faces” of several partymen and that “at times what one says in jest can lead to confusion”. Confusion, the poet in Vajpayee expounded, was not often deliberate but spoken words acquired a life of their own. Like arrows, once released, their consequences were ungovernable, he said.

Vajpayee explained that his statement last night was in response to the party workers raising slogans — Abki baari Atal Bihari or it is Atal Bihari’s turn again. He said that having been the Prime Minister for six years, he could not have responded: “OK, I am ready. Hurry up and instal me again.”

As if to emphasise that he had no intention of opting out, the former Prime Minister said that one of the consequences of this confusion was that he would have to work harder. He promised to tour Maharashtra extensively during the elections.

Vajpayee identified three broad factors for the party’s defeat: overconfidence leading to complacency; the party’s inability to impress the poor; and concentrating on big infrastructural issues without grassroots linkages.

High-tech campaigning and a surfeit of resources, he suggested, were no substitute for the involvement and enthusiasm of the workers. In this context, Vajpayee apparently became emotional when talking about his first electoral contest with meagre resources from Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh.

Vajpayee praised .K. Advani for his “impressive” analysis of the party’s electoral debacle. However, unlike Advani, he did not identify the moving away from Hindutva as the major cause of its defeat. All that Vajpayee said was: “I see no difference between Hindutva and Indianness.”

But the time had come, Vajpayee said, to shed the withdrawal symptoms and the sadness caused by defeat. The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, Vajpayee claimed, was born “full of contradictions” and may not last long.

However, the BJP, Vajpayee pointed out, was not in politics only for the sake of power but for pushing forward its ideals. He urged the party to be ready for the next battle which he enigmatically claimed was “a battle for life”. A party spokesman explained that what he meant was a battle for a better quality of life for Indians.

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