The Union Cabinet on Thursday threw its weight fully behind Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, while the Bharatiya Janata Party asserted that there was no rift between the prime minister and his deputy Lal Kishenchand Advani.
With Vajpayee causing a flutter on Wednesday night remarking that Advani will lead the party to victory, the Cabinet met this morning and the Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi is believed to have initiated the move for getting a Cabinet endorsement.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh also chipped in with a strong endorsement of Vajpayee, as BJP leaders elsewhere in the country rallied behind him, but maintained that Advani was an adequate foil for him.
Congratulating Vajpayee for his 'successful' three-nation trip, from which he returned on Tuesday night, Joshi expressed the hope that Vajpayee would continue to lead the country 'successfully' in future also.
As his colleagues in the Cabinet concurred, Vajpayee simply responded with a 'thank you'.
BJP chief M Venkaiah Naidu, who is in the thick of the controversy surrounding the leadership issue, met Vajpayee in the evening. Vajpayee had in the morning called him over phone and asked him not to worry over media reports on the controversy.
"Many people have tried to project that there are differences in the BJP, but there is no rift between Vajpayee and Advani. Vajpayee is our leader," Naidu said at a public function.
Though most of BJP's allies kept silent on the issue, Trinamool Congress cautioned against any change in the NDA leadership under Vajpayee, while the opposition Congress said the plethora of statements indicated there was an intense power struggle going on in the BJP.
Naidu said there was no confusion at any level within the party about leadership and there was no point in discussing the issue now, as nobody had raised it within the party.
Asked what was the provocation for Vajpayee's remarks, he said, "He has his own style of communication. I cannot comment on it or interpret it. To me, it (remarks) only speaks of Vajpayee's love, affection and appreciation for Advani. They speak highly of each other."
Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy said in Kolkata that leadership of BJP was an internal matter of the party. He said the party has nothing against Advani.