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Dissidence against Modi comes into the open

By Manas Dasgupta

GANDHINAGAR, MAY 27 . The dissidence in the Gujarat BJP Legislature Party against the leadership of the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, came into the open tonight.

Ignoring Mr. Modi's advice and feelers from the party high command not to precipitate the crisis, a former Deputy Minister in the Modi Cabinet, Purshottam Solanki, compared Mr. Modi to "Hitler" and said nothing short of his removal would satisfy dissidents.

Virtually using the birthday party of the former Union Minister, A. K. Patel, at a farmhouse on the outskirts of Gandhinagar tonight as a dissident camp, Mr. Solanki claimed that at least 85 MLAs out of the 127 BJP members in the Assembly were for his immediate removal. He claimed that 62 MLAs present at the birthday party were opposed to Mr. Modi's leadership, while about 25 others had also extended their support for a change of leadership. Among those present at the birthday bash, which the Modi camp had earlier claimed had nothing to do with dissidence in the party, was a Minister of State of the Cabinet, Baukubhai Ughad. Incidentally, it was at Mr. Ughad's office at the Secretariat that an earlier resolution of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers' wing of the Sangh Parivar, was drafted demanding Mr. Modi's sacking. At least 10 BJP MPs, including former Ministers Vallabh Kathiriya and Bhavnaben Chikhaliya, Jayaben Thakkar and the newly-elected Somabhai Patel, all known supporters of the former Chief Minister and Mr. Modi's principal rival, Keshubhai Patel, were also present at the party. Ms. Chikhaliya, who lost the elections this time, had named Mr. Modi's supporters as responsible for her defeat.

The late night developments took place despite a fire-fighting operation launched by Mr. Modi during the day to assuage the feelings of the dissidents, after his detractors started making a noise in the last few days following the party's poor performance in the Lok Sabha elections. Besides calling off a counter-signature campaign aimed at making the party MLAs reiterate their trust in his leadership, Mr. Modi has started meeting his detractors individually in a bid to redress their grievances.

The abrupt winding up of the BJP Legislature Party meeting here on Monday by Mr. Modi is said to be the cause for the party MLAs to step up their activities against his leadership. At least 85 MLAs had called on the party's State unit president, Rajendrasinh Rana, in groups and individually, demanding re-convening of the legislature party meeting at the earliest so that they could air their grievances.

The party MLAs are unhappy over Mr. Modi's persistent refusal to expand his Cabinet since the 16-member team took office after the December, 2002 Assembly elections and for not filling up the vacant posts of chairmen and directors of the state-owned boards and corporations with political appointees. Many of them are also disappointed over his alleged arrogant behaviour after he had told them that they were there only because of him and not on their own merit.

Since last night and during the day today, Mr. Modi met about 70 MLAs individually. Asking the disgruntled MLAs to "behave,'' Mr. Modi had reportedly told them that no political upheaval at the State-level could bring about a change in the leadership and a final decision rested entirely on the party high command. Similarly, he pointed out that if the high command had made up its mind to remove him, even their combined effort would not be able to save the day for him.

Meanwhile, two general secretaries of the BJP's State unit, Bhupendrasinh Chudasma who is also a member of the Modi Cabinet, and Jayantibhai Barot, in a joint statement, denied that the Chief Minister had offered to resign yesterday.

Mehta in New Delhi

PTI reports from New Delhi:

The former Gujarat Chief Minister, Suresh Mehta, who had rushed to the Capital, had discussed the political situation in the State with senior BJP leaders, including the party president, Venkaiah Naidu.

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