Sources claim Vajpayee is very sensitive when it comes to criticism of this kind. Says a party MP: "These kind of charges are made periodically. What hurt probably is that this is the first time Ranjan’s name has been raised in a pointed manner in Parliament by an nda ally." According to him, when the allies sought national security advisor Brajesh Mishra’s resignation post-Tehelka, the PM had struck an ‘over-my-dead-body’ posture. He said he would resign if the demand was pressed because Mishra was his man. And this time around, the PM’s resignation threat was probably linked to allegations against Ranjan.
Says an MP close to Vajpayee: "The PM’s image is very important to him. It is what he has worked for in 50 years of public life. It’s all he has. Smearing those close to him is a direct attempt to tarnish his image."
Coming after strong rumours about his failing health, this was probably the last straw—party circles were abuzz about a letter written by a bjp MP to the PM asking him to step down on grounds of ill health. "When we told him about Nirupam’s tirade in the Rajya Sabha (the PM was not in the House at the time), his first reaction was ‘Bahut ho gaya’," said a pmo official. Nirupam had demanded an inquiry into the pmo’s role in the uti scam and had made obvious references to Ranjan. But the PM was not the only one troubled by the strident stand of some nda partners. The night before he offered his resignation, Yashwant Sinha met the PM and complained about "indiscipline" among the allies.
Says a cabinet minister: "What hurts Atalji is that instead of the Opposition it’s his allies who make these allegations. And no one in the party gets up to defend the pmo."
At the July 31 meeting, apart from referring to his "inability to lead the nda", the PM sarcastically spoke of what he clearly saw as a "smear campaign" against him. "Press mein bhi baar baar aata hai meri tabiyaat theek nahin hai (The media keeps speculating about my ill health) ...", adding that it would be better for him to resign on his own before he was asked to do so by MPs who tended to believe the press.
The resignation card had the desired effect. Sources say Bal Thackeray promised to fly down to Delhi, Yerran Naidu wept when he met the PM and, not to be outdone, Vaiko touched the PM’s feet. More importantly, no nda ally referred to the corruption charges against the pmo again.
Even a day later, when a newspaper revealed that Ranjan’s phone-number figured on ex-uti chairman Subramanyam’s phone bill, no ally dared raise the matter. Says a cabinet minister: "Actually, Ranjan’s clarification pre-empted the Opposition’s attack as Congress MP Priyaranjan Das Munshi had threatened to raise the matter in Parliament. We would have been in a dilemma on how to reply. And again the PM would have got upset."
Clearly, given the PM’s current state of mind, no one wanted to risk a repeat of July 31.