The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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VHP threatens to defy poll panel on yatra

Nov. 11: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad plans to kick off its “mission” Gujarat on November 17, a day after the BJP’s central election committee is scheduled to meet in Delhi to finalise candidates for the December 12 poll.

Led by sadhus, the Jan Jagran Yatra will roll from Godhra, the original flashpoint of the riots and a place the organisation describes as the symbol of “Islamic terrorism”.

VHP functionary Surendra Jain told reporters in Delhi the yatra would appeal to Hindus not to vote along caste lines but in the interest of “national security”. Like chief minister Narendra Modi’s Gaurav rath, the yatra will criss-cross the state till the last date of campaigning.

In Ahmedabad, VHP international general secretary Praveen Togadia said around 200 public meetings will be held during the yatra to “expose the dubious role played by secularists and politicians who are in league with jihadi elements”. The organisation, he added, also expects a couple of sankaracharyas to bless its “mission” to awaken people about national security.

A defiant Togadia said the VHP would “go ahead” even if the Election Commission objects to the yatra. “We would defy and go ahead. We do not care for the Election Commission. Any move to ban the yatra would amount to denying us our fundamental rights,” he said, adding that the VHP will launch protests in all 18,000 villages in the state if such a situation arises.

But Jain claimed that the poll panel’s writ could not run over the VHP as it was a “cultural and religious organisation” and attacked chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh, who has warned of prosecuting anyone who makes communal speeches. “He is talking and behaving like a Congressman,” he said.

Togadia said the VHP would not seek votes for any party during the yatra but would only educate people and force political parties to take a stand on the issue of terrorism. “We will ask political leaders whether they are with us in our fight against terrorism or against us,” he said.He blasted the Congress for demanding that the VHP should not be allowed to campaign and said the party was acting at the behest of “jihadi elements”. Jain said as much when he emphasised that the effort would be to project the Congress as an ally of the “jihadis” and stress that they instigated the violence in the state.

But observers say the VHP’s plan to appeal to Hindus to vote as a consolidated block revealed the BJP’s apprehensions about the Congress. Although initially the BJP had dismissed as “nautanki” (showmanship) state Congress chief Shankersinh Vaghela’s endeavour to project himself as an “alternative”, party sources later said he was making an impact with his caste following among the Kshatriyas.

There was also the admission that the Congress had a stranglehold over Dalits and tribals despite the BJP’s claim that both had participated in the anti-Muslim violence in a big way and were by implication “Hindus”.

An internal pre-poll survey done by the BJP did not bring good news because it gave the Congress 94 seats, the BJP 88 and others five in the 187-member Assembly.

BJP sources say much depends on the selection of candidates and the extent to which the nominees of former chief minister Keshubhai Patel are accommodated. Patel has been sulking since Modi’s ascendancy and has so far refused to be part of the Gaurav yatra.

The factors weighing on the leadership’s mind, sources say, are how much damage Patel could cause in case he is not fully obliged and to what extent the theme of “national security” would neutralise the anti-incumbency sentiment that is bound to arise. More so for a term marked by natural disasters and human strife.

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