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.
Even the habitually critical RSS leaders have come around to saying Gujarat can be discussed. Only, they don't want the riots to be linked to the election results. But it indicates how jittery the Sangh is about Vajpayee making Gujarat an issue in the party's crucial two-day national executive meeting in Mumbai on June 22. And this is precisely what Vajpayee is planning to do. Despite party chief Venkaiah Naidu veering towards the RSS line, saying that sacking Modi or a discussion on Gujarat were not part of the agenda, Vajpayee's quiet resilience carried the day.