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Venkaiah Naidu quits; Advani is BJP chief

By Neena Vyas

CHANGE OF GUARD: The BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, and the former Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, at the party's working committee meeting in New Delhi on Monday. -- Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

NEW DELHI, OCT. 18. At the end of a day of high drama, M. Venkaiah Naidu today resigned as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Soon after, the Leader of the Opposition, L.K. Advani, took over as the new party chief.

With Mr. Naidu's resignation, all party office-bearers lose their positions and the national executive council also stands dissolved. Mr. Advani will now be free to revamp the entire party structure.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Naidu shuttled between the residences of Mr. Advani and the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, trying to convince them of the need to accept his resignation. At a meeting of the party's central office-bearers and other senior leaders later, Mr. Naidu's resignation was accepted and Mr. Advani was unanimously selected for the top party job. His presidentship is to be ratified at the party's National Council session on October 29. Mr. Vajpayee, Mr. Advani and the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Jaswant Singh, were present at the meeting.

Personal reasons

An emotional Mr. Naidu spelt out two reasons for his resignation — one, "the challenges before the party and the country are daunting" and "the party needs a senior leader at this stage," and, two, his wife had been ailing for the last eight to nine months and he needed to attend to her. Although Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani tried to persuade him not to press his resignation, Mr. Naidu insisted that his mind had been made up.

Besides the adverse verdicts in the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections, it seems that the quarrels among the so-called second-generation leaders of the BJP have also added to the situation. The "rift" between Mr. Naidu and the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Uma Bharti, had become an open secret in the run-up to the Maharashtra polls. There was also the reported standoff between Ms. Bharti and Sushma Swaraj. Then there were reports of "sniping comments" made by some other top second generation leaders. In short, there was a feeling that only a senior leader such as Mr. Advani had the authority to ensure discipline.

It was against this background it was felt that giving the party president's post to a younger leader would exacerbate the tensions.

Victories too

Party leaders said that if Mr. Naidu's regime had seen poll debacles it had also witnessed grand victories in the Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh Assembly elections late last year. Mr. Naidu himself later said that in the BJP, collective responsibility was the accepted "mantra" but he had taken "full responsibility as party president." He insisted that it would be wrong to single anyone out for the adverse results.

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