Mumbai, June 24: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has got a new lease of life.
Dissident leader Keshubhai Patel was told in no uncertain terms today by the party that there was no immediate plan for a change of leadership in the state.
“Not within a week and not even three weeks later” is how BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu dismissed speculation about a leadership change in Gujarat.
Keshubhai was summoned to Mumbai but only to be reprimanded. Naidu admitted that there were “some issues” in Gujarat. However, he said, “Keshubhai met L.K. Advani and me. He gave his views. I have conveyed to him the party decision that there is no proposal right now to change the chief minister”.
Keshubhai has apparently been told that he would have to “work together” with Modi.
It was clear, therefore, that if Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the net loser of the Mumbai meeting of the BJP’s national executive, Modi was its sole gainer.
A leader of Vajpayee’s stature had had to back down and the entire party and its ideological organisations ranged behind a man who is widely alleged to be complicit in the communal rioting that engulfed Gujarat in March-April 2002 after the Godhra incident.
With this, Vajpayee’s stature has diminished somewhat within the BJP and the acceptability of Modi, who is not exactly popular with his colleagues, has increased.
In fact, earlier there was believed to be a near consensus within the top party leadership to change Modi because of his style of functioning and his inability to handle farmers’ issues in the state.
Vajpayee, while on holiday in Manali, however, publicly linked Modi’s ouster to the election outcome.
The direct link drawn between Modi’s brand of Hindutva, the communal riots in Gujarat and the BJP’s overall electoral defeat riled the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal.
Many in the BJP also thought that punishing Modi for “Hindutva” would cut at the very ideological roots of the party. There was thus a gradual consolidation of support for Modi, even if temporarily. The result was that he came a victor out of a crisis that could have cost him his job.
Although things are still far from being hunky-dory in Gujarat, Naidu tried to suggest deep political meaning to Modi and Keshubhai coming together to the national executive meeting and sitting side by side. “They were talking to each other,” he said.
The BJP president also tried to play down Keshubhai’s comments yesterday that the situation in Gujarat was akin to the days of Emergency 28 years ago. “He might have used the word ‘urgency’ and you heard it as emergency,” Naidu rationalised.
Modi, who was scheduled to leave for Vadodara last night, stayed back to meet Vajpayee this morning. He had sought an appointment with Vajpayee. This morning, he spent about 20 minutes with Vajpayee and briefed him about the state of the party and his government in Gujarat.
Party insiders claimed that one of the reasons why Modi stayed back was because there were some press reports that he did not want to listen to Vajpayee’s address to the national executive. It is more likely, however, that Modi stayed back because he did not want only Keshubhai’s version to prevail with the party bosses.
Keshubhai claimed he had briefed Vajpayee about the problems of Gujarat in a telephonic conversation today. He even said he had talked to Modi also about the problems in the state unit but Modi seems to have doubted the veracity of what party legislators had been telling Keshubhai.
Keshubhai claimed that Modi had now started talking to the party legislators individually.