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Vajpayee adds fuel to party fire

Our Political Bureau  |  New Delhi 

Making public the fact that he had been hurt and wounded by Rashtriya Swaymsevak Sangh (RSS) chief KS Sudarshan's suggestion that he and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief LK Advani should retire in favour of a younger leadership, former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today made it clear that he was not going to suffer in silence, the harsh judgment passed on him by the RSS.
There was also a hint that as the party had not given him much work, he was dispensable any way. In many quarters this is being interpreted as a subtle criticism of the party president.
"Sujhav acha hai. Main itna kam to kar nahin raha hoon (the proposal is good. I am not doing so much work)," Vajpayee told reporters in reaction to Sudarshan's observation in a television interview that both Vajpayee and Advani were past handling the party now.
Advani has told colleagues and friends that there should be closure on the whole episode, but Vajpayee, apparently, is in no mood to see half a century of political work being dismissed as a waste.
What is interesting is that he has not reacted to the charge-sheet that Sudarshan has presented him with. Sudarshan has accused him of nepotism, of being the worst Prime Minister India has had and assorted other insults.
Vajpayee has reacted to just one ""that he is too old. And now that he has no work, he can fade away, is the logic he is giving.
Here, his target is not Sudarshan, for whom he has little time any way. Even while he was the Prime Minister, the Sangh kept up a campaign against him but was muted in its tone because even the tallest in the RSS recognised that while they were attending shakhas, Vajpayee was editing the magazine that doyens of the Hindu movement like Deen Dayal Updhyaya were editing.
After Rajju Bhaiyya, there is no RSS leader who can claim to be a contemporary of Vajpayee's. So Vajpayee knows he can discount Sudarshan's views.
But in the past few months after the party lost elections, there have been strains in the relationship within the party all round. These have repeatedly come to the fore.
Vajpayee's tacit support to the group in the Gujarat unit of the party that is opposed to Narendra Modi brought the strains sharply in focus. For the first time, Advani told Vajpayee that he would have to stop encouraging those sniping at Modi. Advani has become the leader of both the party and the House. Vajpayee's involvement in the party and in the governments that the party runs in various states, has been minimal.
Sudarshan's attack, therefore, has been deflected and is being used to project Vajpayee as the martyr within the party who gave his all to the organisation and is now being thrown away like a used napkin.
Today reacting to reporters, Vajpayee said nothing in defence of Advani, saying merely that it was up to Advani to decide. "As for Advani, it is for him and the party to decide," he said.
To a question on the second line of leadership in the party, Vajpayee said: "It is ready at any time to take over. It is necessary for them to take charge."
His observation makes them appear like a bunch of ambitious power seekers. "It is a good suggestion. I am not holding any post. I am not doing much work. Nowadays I don't have any work)," he said in reply to a question on Sudarshan's remarks after the BJP parliamentary party meeting here.
Asked about Sudarshan's remarks that when he was the Prime Minister he did not do much on the Ayodhya issue, Vajpayee said: "It is his opinion. Everybody has the right to form an opinion".
Now, how Advani responds to the situation will provide the next chapter of the absorbing drama that has overtaken the BJP since it became a party in the opposition after enjoying power for so long.

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First Published: Wed, April 20 2005. 00:00 IST