The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal throws knockout punch at Advani

New Delhi, Sept. 8: Atal Bihari Vajpayee may not be the Prime Minister any more, nor is he the BJP chief, but he let it be known today he is no doormat.

Vajpayee condemned the expulsion of Madan Lal Khurana by Lal Krishna Advani, putting the notion of unity between the BJP’s two biggest leaders against the Sangh’s attack through the shredder.

“Khurana has been charged with working against the party. But it would have been better not to have taken action against Khurana and instead given him a chance to explain his conduct,” Vajpayee said in a written statement.

It is rare for a person who always speaks with a forked tongue to issue a written statement and even rarer to declare open condemnation.

Advani was away in Jodhpur, but the statement shook the BJP’s 11 Ashoka Road headquarters to its foundation. Party sources used adjectives like “gravest” to describe the crisis.

The blow, two days after Khurana’s expulsion, shattered the Vajpayee-Advani phalanx against the RSS drive to get rid of the current leadership. It also destroyed the impression that with Vajpayee’s support Advani had started to consolidate his hold on the party. Many of his acolytes who had deserted him over his Jinnah comments were renewing their loyalty.

It throws into complete disarray the preparations for the party’s national executive.

Why did Vajpayee do it'

It’s always difficult to fathom the workings of the mind of a mature politician like Vajpayee, but surmises are available. The three-para statement in Hindi said when Khurana met him recently, Vajpayee voiced the hope that keeping Khurana’s services to the BJP in mind, he would be given another opportunity to acquit himself.

Sources close to Vajpayee said there was no communication between him and Advani nor a request for a meeting.

The sources said Vajpayee was “hurt” at not being consulted or informed about Khurana’s expulsion ' he hinted at it in the statement. They said he felt particularly “let down” because with his backing Advani had survived repeated assaults from the RSS after his Pakistan visit.

“Had Vajpayee even dropped a hint that he was not with Advani, the RSS would have pushed him out.”

With the statement, Vajpayee made it clear to Advani that his support could not be taken for granted. He also sent out the message that he still had the power to pull the rug from under Advani’s feet.

One of the two would have to eat crow for the crisis to blow over. The sources said it was “virtually impossible” for Vajpayee to retract.

“In the past, Vajpayee could do a flip because his statements were verbal. This time he has put out an unambiguous response in writing,” they added.

This means Advani will have to reconsider Khurana’s expulsion and if he does that, his authority as the BJP chief will be “completely undermined”. Some said Advani might lob the “bombshell” into the party’s court ' his acolytes ' and try to swing a verdict in his favour.

But senior leaders Yashwant Sinha and Pyarelal Khandelwal lent their voices to Vajpayee. Murli Manohar Joshi, who called on Vajpayee, said: “What he has said is perfectly right and the party should consider it seriously.”

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