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Babri spooks Cong Gujarat gameplan

New Delhi, Nov. 29: The Babri ghost made a forceful entry today when the Opposition was trying to avoid raising the issue out of fear that it would hurt the Congress’ prospects in the Gujarat elections.

The Congress reacted cautiously to the Supreme Court order in the Ayodhya case less than two weeks before the 10th anniversary of the demolition. It welcomed the directive but remained divided over whether to make political capital of the trial of L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti when Parliament reassembles on Monday.

Paradoxically, the BJP also expressed “satisfaction” over the Supreme Court’s directive. “The Congress had been stalling the House for several days, asking why a notification was not being issued by Mayavati. Now that it is issued, we are satisfied,” spokesman Vijay Kumar Malhotra said.

Former law minister and BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley saw no threat to Advani, Joshi and Bharti’s ministerial posts, pointing out that they were facing the same charges when they assumed office.

Instead of being tried by a special court at Lucknow, the trio would now be tried at Rae Bareli, he said.

BJP leaders put up a brave face, challenging the Opposition to raise the matter in Parliament. With the Gujarat polls in mind, party leaders said they would “not mind” Babri being discussed.

Every year, the Opposition rakes up the demolition issue around December 6, demanding action against Advani, Joshi, Bharti and the other accused.

But this year, the Congress was keen to avoid focusing on Babri because it could help the BJP consolidate its support in parts of Gujarat, which remain polarised on communal lines.

Today’s development has put the Congress in a bind. The Left Front, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal are all set to corner the government in Parliament on Monday and it would be embarrassing for the Congress to keep quiet.

Sonia Gandhi is away in the United Kingdom and her floor managers remained sharply divided on how to handle the issue in the Lok Sabha. Sonia returns to the capital on Sunday. Senior leaders said a final decision on the party’s stand would be taken on Sunday evening.

Yesterday, in the business advisory committee of the Lok Sabha, the Congress had consciously avoided raising the Babri issue while discussing the list of business for next week.

The party’s floor managers were happy that December 6 would be a holiday on account of Id. Some Congress leaders had asked other Opposition parties also to avoid raking the Babri issue in Parliament.

For the record, the Congress welcomed the court’s directive, saying it hoped the law would take its own course.

“We are confident that there would be fair trial and those guilty would be appropriately punished,” spokesman Anand Sharma said.

Claiming it as a victory for the rule of law, Sharma alleged that the Mayavati government had deliberately defaulted on the Babri trial as part of a trade-off with the BJP.

The Left parties, too, welcomed the development. CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet said: “The BJP tried to cover up the case. But I am very happy now that it has not worked.”

Surjeet pointed out that the deputy Prime Minister had “started the rath yatra” and played a big role in events leading to Babri demolition.

“Why should they now escape the responsibility of what happened as a result'” he asked.

Echoing him, CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said: “This is a case which involves a substantial amount of guilt on the part of those chargesheeted.”

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