Brutus could not have done better. Still smarting from their defeat in the Lok Sabha elections, the last thing that the BJP top brass needed was another first-class crisis. And that is precisely what they have got. Former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee—until a month ago the undeniable party mascot—has landed the BJP into such a crisis by publicly raking up the issue of the Gujarat riots for the second time in a week. Barely two days after the party had issued a clear rebuff to Vajpayee by contradicting him on the touchy Gujarat issue, he reaffirmed his position on June 17. The sign of a vertical split within the BJP between the so-called moderates and the hardliners coincided with a reassertion of Vajpayee as the supreme leader of the party.
Leaving for the cooler climes of Manali after a difficult election campaign which ended in defeat and a stormy but short parliament session, Vajpayee gave out nary a hint of what was coming. In a carefully televised TV interview, he said what the Sangh parivar did not want to hear: the blame for the electoral defeat lay with Narendra Modi, the roundly reviled Gujarat chief minister. When the Sangh pantheon hit back the same day, rather rudely trashing what Vajpayee had said, there was clearly a storm waiting to happen. Before the week died out, Vajpayee hit back again, insisting Gujarat will be discussed at the party national executive meeting in Mumbai. "We will discuss Gujarat in Mumbai. We will discuss it with an open mind. We discuss (such issues) both after victory and defeat. We will not be afraid of discussions," he told a public meeting in Manali on June 17.