Male, Sept. 24: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will cut short his visit to the Maldives in view of the attack in Gandhinagar and leave for New Delhi tomorrow morning.
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani reached Gandhinagar tonight. Advani, who spoke to a priest at the Akshardham temple before he left Delhi, had briefed Vajpayee.
The Prime Minister has informed President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam of his decision to return home earlier than scheduled. Vajpayee was originally scheduled to reach Delhi tomorrow night.
Reacting sharply to the militant attack, Vajpayee said the assault on the Swaminarayan temple was a desperate act of “retaliation” against the success of the Kashmir elections, the second phase of which was held today.
He said the fact that the people in Jammu and Kashmir had voted in large numbers had frustrated the militants. The elections have “taken place and people are coming out in big numbers to vote. The terrorists are frustrated and are trying to take revenge”, he said. “They want to foment trouble all over the country but we will tackle this with restraint but firmness,” the Prime Minister added.
The government, Vajpayee said, was “strong” and had the “people’s confidence”. But he warned against “being worked up” over the incident.
Vajpayee got in touch with Kalam and Advani immediately after he was informed of the incident in the evening. He also spoke to Gujarat Governor S.S. Bhandari. According to officials accompanying the Prime Minister here, he assured the President that the government would take all necessary steps to deal with the situation.
Speaking at a reception hosted by the Indian high commissioner to the Maldives, Vajpayee strongly condemned the temple attack but said that terrorism was on its “last leg”. Terrorists had to face defeat in Afghanistan. “Where is the Taliban today' Where is al Qaida'” he asked.
The Prime Minister is believed to have asked both Advani and the Gujarat Governor to ensure that the Gandhinagar incident does not lead to any disturbances in the state.
Government sources here said the Gandhinagar incident would strengthen India’s case against terrorism before the international community, particularly because it coincided with the Kashmir elections. But any backlash, like the communal riots in Gujarat after the Godhra incident, would greatly embarrass the government and weaken its case against terrorism.
In Delhi, Advani said the attack is a “deliberate design” by those who are unhappy at the smooth conduct of elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Asked about the possibility of a communal backlash, Advani said: “I am sure the people will understand that any communal conflict will only serve the very purpose of the terrorists.”
Pakistan condemned the attack and denied any role in the violence. Information minister Nisar Memon said the attack reflected the failure of Hindu nationalist leaders in India to build a tolerant society in Gujarat. “We condemn this attack on an Indian temple by whoever has done it,” he told Reuters. “This is the kind of society that the leadership of the BJP has built in Gujarat.”