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Home turf crisis swivels spotlight to Advani

New Delhi, Sept. 24: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani reached Gandhinagar late tonight to oversee operations against the country’s “enemies” who had bloodied the sprawling Swaminarayan temple in his home constituency.

Before he left for Gujarat, Advani told reporters at his North Block office that the attack was a “deliberate design”.

Without naming Pakistan, he said the country’s “enemies” were unhappy at the smooth conduct of the elections in Jammu and Kashmir, where people had courageously come out to exercise their democratic right despite the continued violence and threat from militants.

These enemies, Advani said, “feel that the developments in Jammu and Kashmir would strengthen India’s cause there” and were “trying to use this card to divert attention”.

Advani, who briefed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on the developments, said he had spoken to a priest inside the temple as well as to the MLA of the Gandhinagar constituency and was, of course, in constant touch with chief minister Narendra Modi.

He said the chief minister has appealed to people of the state to maintain peace “keeping the enemy’s intentions in mind”. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has also been kept in the picture, the deputy Prime Minister added.

Apart from National Security Guard commandos, who were rushed to hunt out the attackers, companies of the Central Reserve Police Force are being sent to Gujarat.

The state, which was slowly limping back to normal after months of communal bloodletting, already has a large number of CRPF companies. But Advani does not want to take any chances.

With the Prime Minister away in the Maldives, this is the first major crisis confronting Advani as the man on the spot. The challenge before the deputy Prime Minister is to ensure that today’s killings do not trigger another bout of riots in the state, scarred by the worst-ever violence in a decade that has killed hundreds.

If he can hold the fragile peace in Gujarat and restrain hardline Hindu outfits from turning today’s incident into another Godhra — the original flashpoint for the riots — it would be a significant achievement.

Advani has appealed to the nation not to be provoked by what has happened and has also instructed Modi to ensure that peace is maintained.

The Centre, he said, will give all help to the state government to maintain communal harmony.

The deputy Prime Minister was planning to visit the Dwarka temple in Gujarat — something he has been doing much before the BJP came to power.

But this year, Advani had planned to defer the visit, leading to speculation in the media that he wanted to keep a distance from the Gujarat chief minster.

The reports led to a change in the programme, as Advani was eager to ensure that a wrong signal does not go out to the people of Gujarat with Assembly elections round the corner.

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