The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poll before Atal, BJP grabs Godhra

New Delhi, Nov. 27: In a clear negation of the Prime Minister’s appeal, the BJP today asserted that Godhra would be an issue in the Gujarat elections even as Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s campaign appeared to have been reduced to a token exercise.

Vajpayee, according to official sources here, will undertake a two-day tour from December 9, just two days before campaigning comes to a close for the December 12 polls.

Offering the alibi that the party was forced to fall back on Godhra because the Congress had already made it an issue, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra said “nationalism, patriotism and pseudo-secularism” would also be part of the campaign.

Asked if the decision did not run contrary to the Prime Minister’s expressed position that the Godhra train carnage should not be used to reap electoral benefits, Malhotra said that with the Congress and other parties “constantly raking it up, how can we avoid doing so”'

When it was pointed out that the party was not listening to Vajpayee while it claimed to be reacting to the Opposition, Malhotra repeated his charge that the “Congress has made it an issue, so it has become an issue.”

At the peak of the controversy over the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s proposed yatra, Vajpayee had made a public statement saying that Godhra should not be turned into an election issue. Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had supported Vajpayee’s stand. Even chief minister Narendra Modi had then promised to fall in line.

Only the other day, however, Modi had his campaign office in Ahmedabad opened by a Godhra victim, indicating the event’s top-of-the-mind recall for him.

After the experience with Haren Pandya, who was denied a ticket for the polls because Modi opposed it — though the Delhi leadership was in favour — it will not be unexpected if the agenda for the campaign is actually set by the caretaker chief minister in Ahmedabad rather than by Vajpayee and Advani.

In a discussion on Gujarat in Parliament today, Advani quoted Modi as saying he would focus on education, electricity, water and development to win the elections, while outside the House the party appeared more exercised with Godhra.

The deputy Prime Minister even favoured shutting Gujarat — he described the riots as “shameful” and “unfortunate” — out of debates lest it reopened old wounds. He hoped that the new government, which comes to power after the Assembly elections, would look after the interests of all communities.

“Everyone — irrespective of faith, caste or creed — should live in safety.”

As an afterthought, he added: “There should be no distinction on grounds of majority and minority.”

Apart from Godhra, the BJP is planning to highlight the “non-enforcement of the anti-terrorism Act, freeing of terrorists and disbanding of the Special Operations Group in Kashmir” in the poll campaign.

Party strategists are working on how best to cash in on the Congress’ “confusion” over the release of militants by the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government before the attack on the Raghunath temple “to drive home the point that the Congress is soft on terrorists”.

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