Dr Murali Manohan Joshi, former president of the Bhartiya Janata Party, could be seen at the party's convention in Mumbai, trying to explain away news reports that claimed he demanded that L K Advani should resign as the leader of the Opposition.
In a conversation with rediff.com, Joshi said that he had not made the statement attributed to him. His supporters claimed that the concerned journalist was present on the train when Dr Joshi travelled to Mumbai from Delhi.
"Neither have I demanded Advaniji's resignation as leader of the Opposition nor of anybody else in the party," he said.
Dr Joshi said Advani was one of the seniormost leaders of the BJP and would continue to lead the party in Parliament. He said the news report appeared to be part of a conspiracy to malign him.
His clarification came in the wake of news reports that, along with some other senior leaders, he was unhappy with Advani over the manner in which the latter had 'mishandled' the party's stand on the government motion in the Lok Sabha recently for the expulsion of ten MPs caught in the 'cash for queries' scam.
Five of these MPs belonged to the BJP. One Rajya Sabha member of the party was also expelled on the same charge.
Dr Joshi acknowledged that he had spoken to some mediapersons on board the Rajdhani Express on Sunday, while on his way to Mumbai from New Delhi to attend the BJP silver jubilee convention. However, he said he had never made any reference to Advani's position as leader of the Opposition.
But very few in the party were willing to buy Joshi's denial.
"I can understand that if the statement was carried by one newspaper but how does one explain the publication of the news in other papers whose correspondents did not travel with Joshi from Delhi to Mumbai on December 25," asked a senior leader of the party who is in-charge of convention.
Last evening, BJP vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu had also stated that Advani would complete his full tenure as leader of the Opposition.
"He will continue as leader of the Opposition. He will complete his full tenure," Naidu said, when asked whether there was any pressure on Advani to step down from the post after he resigns as the party chief at the end of the conclave.
"Advani and former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee will continue to remain our supreme guides and the party will work in consultation with them," he said.
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With agency inputs