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Why Modi didn't go in 2002: The Shourie version

August 25, 2009 12:02 IST
Why did the Bharatiya Janata Party not ask Narendra Modi to resign as Gujarat's chief minister after the 2002 riots?

Buried in the Lewis Carollian ('Alice in Blunderland') and Rajesh Khanna-esque ('BJP is a Kati Patang') sound bytes in his interview to Shekhar Gupta on NDTV on Monday, Arun Shourie ripped aside the veil of secrecy surrounding the BJP's mysterious decision to let Modi stay on in Gandhinagar despite the horrors of seven years ago.

Dr Shourie recalled he was asked to join then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then home minister Lal Kishenchand Advani on a flight the two leaders took to the party's national executive in Goa.

The then disinvestment minister told Gupta he was reluctant to do so, but was persuaded by those close to both men that if he didn't go, Vajpayee and Advani would not speak to each other for the entire duration of the flight!

When the flight took off, Dr Shourie and then external affairs minister Jaswant Singh sat opposite each other while the two most powerful men in the National Democratic Alliance government did likewise.

Advani and Vajpayee did not speak to each other, Dr Shourie recalled in his interview to NDTV. Then the prime minister picked up a newspaper and started reading it. The home minister did likewise. No one spoke till Dr Shourie said he gently pulled the newspaper out of Vajpayee's hands and told the prime minister and home minister they had to address the Modi issue.

When the flight landed in Goa, Dr Shourie recalled Vajpayee and Advani had achieved consensus and decided that Modi would be asked to go. His recollection is different from what Jaswant Singh told NDTV last week. Singh recalled Vajpayee asking him to tell Advani that Modi would have to go, whereupon the home minister said, 'bawaal (chaos)' would ensue in the BJP, and presumably the state, if that happened.

When the national executive meeting began in Panjim, Dr Shourie recalled Modi announced he would quit, but was shouted down by voices from all parts of the hall, including Dr Shourie remembered, Keshubhai Patel and Pramod Mahajan (both of who did not much care for Modi).

Dr Shourie did not know if the hoo-ha was orchestrated or spontaneous, but even after he interceded, saying that the prime minister and home minister had agreed on Modi's exit, the move to remove the Gujarat chief minister died down quickly.

The former editor of the India Express told the newspaper's current editor, Shekhar Gupta - who noted on Monday night that he had been a 'cub reporter' under Dr Shourie - that Vajpayee was also in agony over the Modi issue during a visit the then prime minister made to Singapore and Cambodia.

Dr Shourie, who accompanied Vajpayee on that State visit, says he was asked by Brajesh Mishra, then the secretary to the prime minister, and Ranjan Bhattacharjee, Vajpayee's son-in-law, to counsel the premier in his suite abroad the prime ministerial flight.

Vajpayee, Dr Shourie discovered, sat despondent, with his head bowed in his hands. He asked Dr Shourie how he could visit Singapore and Cambodia after the Gujarat riots. Dr Shourie said he counseled the prime minister to call Advani and tell him that Modi would have to go. That way any anticipated controversy in those countries would be quelled even before it had a chance to assert itself.

As far as Dr Shourie knew (and he checked with Vajpayee every evening) that call was never made.

Narendra Modi remained chief minister, a position he holds to this day.

rediff News Bureau