Wednesday, August 1, 2001,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Vajpayee offers to quit office
Indiscipline worries PM; NDA meeting today
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee looks over a document.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee looks over a document in his Parliament office in New Delhi on Tuesday. — AFP photo

New Delhi, July 31
Irked by some members of his ministerial team indulging in rank indiscipline, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee dropped a bombshell here this morning by proposing to resign accepting responsibility for failing to keep the disparate NDA flock together.

It happened in a jiffy at the meeting of the Parliamentary Bharatiya Janata Party which left the saffron brigade stunned. After saying his bit, a grim Mr Vajpayee made his exit amid shouts that the MPs would not allow the BJP stalwart to step down.

Immediately thereafter just about everyone with Union Home Minister L.K. Advani in the vanguard immersed themselves in fire-fighting operations and stalling a potentially explosive situation for the BJP-led NDA.

Discriminating BJP leaders acknowledged that Mr Vajpayee’s suggestion to make way for another leader who can knit the NDA together rather than pulling in different directions has caused serious damage to the image of the coalition government at the Centre.

“It is going to take some doing to put things on an even keel in the NDA though there is no immediate threat to the Vajpayee government,” senior BJP and other leaders of the NDA grouping said.

The Congress and the Opposition seeking to put the NDA government on the mat because of the Unit Trust of India (UTI) controversy got another shot in the arm with news spreading that Mr Vajpayee had offered to step down because of disunity in the NDA grouping. They demanded that Mr Vajpayee should come to both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and clarify the position about his desire to step down as Prime Minister.

Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan acknowledged in a statement that Mr Vajpayee did express his desire to quit office because of his inability to have the NDA function in a coherent and disciplined manner.

He said BJP members reacted sharply to the Prime Minister’s remarks and declared that Mr Vajpayee should not be allowed to leave. Later Mr Advani, Union External Affairs and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh and Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Mr Mahajan called on Mr Vajpayee and persuaded him to abandon his proposal.

It was decided that a meeting of the NDA would be convened tomorrow, Mr Mahajan added.

The entire day was spent by various BJP leaders in explaining to mediapersons that “there is no crisis and that things have been sorted out.” They also made a laboured attempt to point out that the ongoing UTI crisis has nothing to do with Mr Vajpayee proposing to give up the office of Prime Minister.

It is apparent the UTI imbroglio and the speech by the Shiv Sena MP alluding to telephone calls having allegedly been made from the Prime Minister’s Office has added a new dimension to the controversy.

Authoritative sources said the Prime Minister had been disturbed with the preponderance of ministers pursuing their own agenda rather than implementing the brief handed down to them directly. This had created avoidable conflict situations.

Mr Vajpayee is also believed to be terribly ill at ease with intense speculation about his health and attempts to directly link the PMO to various acts of omission and commission. The attack in this regard has been rather shrill from some of the alliance partners of the NDA like Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena.

Then the Sangh Parivar has also been unsparing in criticising the Vajpayee government for its economic policies and demanding that the BJP should rekindle and return to the Hindutva agenda with all the force and vigour at its command. Simultaneously, there has been constant talk of the hardliners in the Sangh Parivar desiring a change in leadership.

Despite all these irritants from within, the Prime Minister has sought to stick to his liberal face by undertaking a delicate balancing act thus far.

Union Rural Development Minister and former BJP spokesperson Venkaiah Naidu stressed there was no crisis before the government as the entire BJP and all the NDA partners stoutly supported Mr Vajpayee’s leadership.

Maintaining that there was no question of lending any substance to Mr Vajpayee’s proposal to step down as Prime Minister, Mr Naidu insisted that the UTI issue was not raised by any member at the Parliamentary BJP meeting.

Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam said he had not made any allegations against the Prime Minister. He, however, insisted that people working in the PMO were not clean.

At the same time the constituents of the NDA sought to steer clear from Mr Vajpayee’s proposal to resign on the ground that it was an internal matter of the BJP which had to be sorted out within the party and the Sangh Parivar.

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