A-TEAM POWERS BACK 

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By FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
  • Published 29.06.02
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New Delhi, June 29 :    New Delhi, June 29:  The return of Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley, Ananth Kumar and Rajnath Singh to the BJP ranks means that deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has regained control of the party organisation, although by proxy. The quartet has been named the party's new core team, which will have the last word on policies and strategies. Naidu, Jaitley, Kumar and Rajnath owe their rise mainly to Advani. The first three were members of his team of office-bearers. Rajnath became Uttar Pradesh chief minister, thanks to Advani backing him against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's wishes. Advani's grip over the BJP slackened after Kushabhau Thakre took over as president in 1998 and became progressively weaker while Bangaru Laxman and later K. Jana Krishnamurthi headed it. Thakre and Krishnamurthi had their moments of tension with Vajpayee and sporadically spoke out against the government, but the Prime Minister and his strategists were quick to neutralise the criticism. Laxman tried to chart a course different from the Hindutva image the BJP had projected during Advani's long tenure by stressing that the minorities and the marginalised ought to be coopted in its mainstream. In a sense, Naidu's return will ensure the end of the BJP's dalliance with any brand of liberalism. Sources said it was a matter of time before the leaders speak out only in favour of Hindutva, NDA or no NDA. In the Goa executive last April, Advani had said the BJP should not be apologetic about Hindutva and his statement was seen as a sign of a larger agenda that would unfold in the coming months. The continuance of Narendra Modi as Gujarat chief minister - against Vajpayee's express wishes - and the appointment of Vinay Katiyar as the Uttar Pradesh BJP chief seemed in sync with the revival of aggressive Hindutva in the party. The return of Naidu and company to 11 Ashoka Road was also seen as an effort to give the BJP a "younger and more dynamic" look. The four are in their late forties or early fifties - a fact highlighted by the age of earlier presidents, who were in their seventies and eighties. As news of Naidu's likely takeover of the BJP did the rounds, the atmosphere in the BJP headquarters turned electric. The staff swore that the morale of the cadre would be revived and the forlorn office reactivated. But the older office-bearers did not share their enthusiasm. One pointed out that Kumar was the only Lok Sabha MP in the core team, Naidu and Jaitley were from the Rajya Sabha while Rajnath had led the BJP to its worst-ever debacle in the Uttar Pradesh elections. The underlying statement was that none of them could claim to be "people's representatives".