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Modi may resign at BJP meet in Mumbai

June 18, 2004 15:09 IST

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi may tender his resignation when the 2002 riots and its impact on the Bharatiya Janata Party's performance in the general election is discussed at the three-day national executive meeting in Mumbai next week, sources in the BJP told rediff.com

Modi will leave it to the party to accept or reject his resignation, the sources said.

Former Gujarat chief minister Suresh Mehta, a moderate, is the frontrunner to succeed Modi if his resignation is accepted by the party leadership.

Mehta was among the first to defend Atal Bihari Vajpayee this week, after the former prime minister's comment to Zee News that the Gujarat riots cost the BJP the general election provoked rebuttals from party president M Venkaiah Naidu and other leaders of the Sangh Parivar.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh Sarsanghchalak K S Sudarshan and Dr Praveen Togadia and Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad denounced Vajpayee and defended Modi.

Venkaiah Naidu told the media that Gujarat would not be discussed at the BJP national executive meeting in Mumbai.

Party spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi denied any move to replace Modi, who remained mum throughout the controversy.

"At one stage, Atalji threatened he would not attend the national executive meeting if the attacks on him did not stop," a senior BJP leader told rediff.com

"The party leadership did not want to face such embarrassment," the BJP leader added. "(Former deputy prime minister L K) Advaniji spoke to Vajpayeeji a number of times on the phone to iron out the issue. Advaniji was one of the few BJP leaders who did not utter a word on the subject and hence Atalji was receptive to what he said."

"Atalji is our most respected leader and nobody can and will disobey him," BJP General Secretary Vijay Kumar Malhotra told rediff.com

On Thursday, June 17, Vajpayee asserted again that Gujarat would be discussed at the Mumbai meeting, which will be held from June 22 to June 24.

The former prime minister -- who is chairman of the National Democratic Alliance in Parliament -- is still on holiday in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, where he spends a week every summer.

Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar, who had called for Modi's resignation soon after the Gujarat riots, is likely to set the ball rolling in Mumbai by voicing his concern at the manner in which the chief minister handled the situation after the murderous attack on the Sabarmati Express in Godhra on February 27, 2002.

Vajpayee told Zee News that Modi should have been replaced as chief minister after the riots.

But this is a view that Sangh Parivar leaders like the VHP's Ashok Singhal are unwilling to accept.

"People are saying the BJP lost this election because of non-action against the chief minister after the Gujarat incidents," VHP Working President Singhal told rediff.com "According to the RSS sarsanghchalak, this argument is baseless considering the grand successes registered in the Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh [assembly] election that took place after the Gujarat incidents and prior to the national election. Instead of looking for scapegoats, Shri Atalji and Shri Advaniji should have shown the courage to own up responsibility for the defeat as it [the national election] was fought under their leadership."

RSS leader Madan Devi Dass -- who liaises between his organisation and the BJP -- met Advani after the latter returned from a short holiday in Nainital. Dass is likely to meet Vajpayee on June 19 after the former premier returns to Delhi.

Onkar Singh in New Delhi