| Singh greets Vajpayee on his 82nd birthday on Monday. Picture by Rajesh Kumar
New Delhi, Dec. 25: A few days ago, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was smarting as he smelt a “challenge” from Manmohan Singh. Today, on his 82nd birthday, the scent wafting around the BJP veteran’s room was that of flowers.
Manmohan Singh drove down to his predecessor’s home in the morning with a bouquet, wished him a happy birthday and spoke to him one-to-one for about 10 minutes. “They spoke about various issues,” a source close to Singh said.
The source played down the political significance of the visit, saying the Prime Minister had dropped in at Vajpayee’s home on his 80th birthday, too.
In Congress circles, though, it became a subject of discussion, especially on a day there was little else to talk about with most members infected by the year-end festive mood.
But there was also a second reason for the buzz.
Vajpayee had ripped into the government and the Prime Minister on the last day of Parliament’s winter session after Singh had referred to the “differences” between the former Prime Minister and L.K. Advani.
Singh, in his intervention on the nuclear deal in the Lok Sabha, had cited how Advani had tried to paint a “stale picture” of the deal that bore “no relation” to the “facts of the matter”.
“In the process, he has sought to divide the UPA alliance in the expectation that perhaps he may succeed in toppling this government,” the Prime Minister said. “I can assure L.K. Advani that he will have to wait for a very, very long time and, in any case, for that he will have to seek the permission of Vajpayee.”
A day later, at a BJP function, Vajpayee had said: “This (Singh’s statement) is not a joke; it’s a challenge for us.”
Singh’s gesture today was seen as an attempt at mollifying Vajpayee, whose words continue to influence the BJP’s stand on big policy matters.
The government needs the main Opposition party’s support on the nuclear deal as well as on its efforts to decide its stand on the UN sanctions against Iran. Brajesh Mishra, the former national security adviser and principal secretary to Vajpayee, still plays a key role in shaping the BJP’s foreign policy outlook.
BJP observers felt that Singh may have erred by trying to draw Parliament’s attention to the Vajpayee-Advani “differences”, because neither of the “big two” have tolerated similar efforts in the past, either from within their party or political opponents.
BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley was quoted by agencies as welcoming Singh’s gesture. “This is a good trend. We are all political opponents but we want each other’s best,” he said.
The Prime Minister rarely visits political leaders on their birthdays. On June 25 this year, he had made another exception by attending V.P. Singh’s 75th birthday celebrations at the residence of Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan.