An unscheduled lunch

Print edition : May 12, 2001

IT was like any other hot afternoon at C-1/6 Pandara Road, the New Delhi residence of Union Home Minister L.K. Advani. Then the telephone rang. The caller was Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, telling Kamla Advani that he was inviting himself over for lunch at their place that day. Kamala Advani in turn made a frantic call to her husband at his North Block office. Advani rushed home to receive the Prime Minister, who had driven there without the usual hangers-on. He had even left behind his Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra and foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya. Unmindful of the flutter his visit caused in political circles, Vajpayee spent more than three hours talking exclusively to his long-time associate.

Although the two leaders have not divulged the details of their discussion, a number of theories have been doing the rounds. One is that it was a deliberate move on the part of Vajpayee to set at rest reports of serious differences between them over the handling of the Tehelka expose.

Advani, according to reliable sources and newspaper reports, was unhappy with Vajpayee's failure to take action against officials of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) named in the Tehelka tapes, even after the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had made known its displeasure.

According to other theories, Vajpayee was upset with RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan's criticism of the PMO and the latest attack on the government by Dattopant Thengdi, leader of Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), a Sangh Parivar-affiliate. Thengdi threatened to gather nine lakh BMS activists in Delhi on August 9 outside Parliament when it meets for the monsoon session, to protest against the government's anti-people policies. Since Advani is known to be close to both Sudarshan and Thengdi, it is not surprising that the Prime Minister thought it fit to explain matters to him, and through him to the Sangh Parivar.

Officials in the PMO, however, are of the opinion that the Prime Minister may have discussed the Kashmir situation and a slew of other issues such as the overhauling of the PMO in view of Sudarshan's criticism of Brajesh Mishra and N.K. Singh, who has since been shifted to the Planning Commission. Some of them feel that the Prime Minister might be looking for a graceful exit for Brajesh Mishra. One possibility is to remove him from the post of National Security Adviser but retain him as his Principal Secretary. The fact that Mishra held the dual posts of Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and National Security Adviser had come in for criticism in defence circles.

One unmistakable reaction has been a collective sigh of relief in the BJP headquarters after the two met and talked it out. What most BJP leaders find important is that Vajpayee took the initiative in breaking the ice.

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