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February 23, 1998


Vajpayee calls off fast, asks Bhandari to quit

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee called off his two-day old fast unto death on Monday evening after the Allahabad high court stayed the dismissal of the Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh.

Vajpayee's grand-daughter Niharika offered him a glass of juice in the presence of former President R Venkataraman and the BJP's wellwishers at his residence after he was told that the Allahabad high court had restored status quo ante and Kalyan Singh had assumed charge as chief minister.

The veteran BJP leader had gone on fast on February 21, soon after the governor dismissed the Kalyan Singh government and installed Jagdambika Pal as chief minister.

Vajpayee said the court's verdict was a slap - "a well-deserved slap in the face of the governor and had increased the people's faith in judiciary and democracy in the country".

"What a fine, swift, decisive victory for the moral standpoint: for democracy, for the Constitution, for the people of Uttar Pradesh," he said in a statement after breaking the fast.

The BJP leader said his going to fast unto death was a hard decision, but it was all to save democracy in the country. The verdict of the Allahabad high court is a moment to rejoice. A diabolic conspiracy to affect the course of elections has been defeated, he added.

Talking to newspersons in the lawns of his residence, the veteran leader said, "Our stand had been vindicated. The court verdict had proved that democracy in the country was still alive." He said the party's plank would now be stability and democracy.

He said democracy was the very basis of our lives. "It is not simply a form of administration or government. Barring Emergency democratic institutions continued to be respected as these helped unity among the people in the country."

What had happened in Lucknow was a direct attack on democracy and he was compelled to go on an indefinite fast to save it.

Vajpayee said the UP episode, albeit painful, was the only instance of its kind when the governor himself became the pivot of conspiracy. Romesh Bhandari should now resign on his own and if he still did not, at least now the President should dismiss him, he added.

Vajpayee said the UP crisis had shown the "fragile condition in which our institutions are: the perversities to which a governor can sink, the abdication of his moral and constitutional duty by the prime minister, and the helplessness of the President".

The court had taken away the opportunity from the governor to misuse his office for partisan ends, and to thereby disgrace it, he said sarcastically.

Vajpayee said it was a matter of concern that the governor chose to do this mischief on the eve of the second phase of polling to benefit a particular person. But he did not name who this person was.

He said Bhandari knew that the speaker had convened the assembly and the President had advised not be hasty in his decision. The governor ignored both of them. Vajpayee claimed that President K R Narayanan had advised him that Kalyan Singh should not be denied the opportunity to prove his majority on the floor of the house.

Bhandari also ignored the advice by many legal luminaries.

Vajpayee emphasised that all parties and political leaders should ponder over afresh to strengthen democratic institutions in the country which alone could provide stability and rapid economic progress.

Asked what would happen in Uttar Pradesh if those who left Kalyan Singh did not come back, he said the chief minister would prove his majority in the assembly. If he failed, he would resign.

On being reminded how Kalyan Singh had caused defections to form the government in October last, Vajpayee said in the last assembly elections no party had got a majority and the state was under President's rule. The BJP wanted to install a popular government there and that is why the party had to join hands with Mayawati of the BSP to form the government. But the experiment failed.

What Kalyan Singh did later was just to save the state from another spell of President's rule, he said, and added, "Politics means sharing of power but within rules."

He reminded people of the third round of polling on February 28, and called upon them not to miss the opportunity to send only persons of integrity and competence to the Lok Sabha for strengthening democracy.

The party, meanwhile, withdrew its proposed 'rail roko' agitation and other protests on Tuesday to press for the dismissal of Bhandari and restoration of Kalayan Singh as chief minister.

The news of the court verdict in favour of Kalyan Singh reached Vajpayee's residence around 1600 hours, sending a ripple of happiness among the BJP workers sitting on a dharna for the past two days outside the residence to provide moral support to their leader.

The workers, including a large number of women, burst crackers and danced in happiness.

Soon the leaders of supporting parties, including the Haryana chief minister Bansi Lal, dignitaries and BJP wellwishers thronged his residence to congratulate him on his moral victory.

Party president Lal Krishan Advani who was away in Gujarat in connection with electioneering, also phoned him from there, urging him to break his fast.

Before breaking the fast, Vajpayee however preferred to address the party workers assembled outside his residence and thanked them for their support.

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