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Godhra sting in Atal appeal

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Atal Bihari Vajpayee today sought to convey an impression that he is swimming with the tide of Gujarat celebrations in the BJP, saying many minority community members were still not “repentant” for the Godhra carnage.

But the Prime Minister added in the next breath that “we have to live together” and “keep everyone together”.

“Why didn’t many people of the Muslim community condemn the Godhra incident' Even today, there is no repentance.... That we committed a mistake or that this should not have happened and that it was a crime,” PTI quoted Vajpayee as saying.

“But we have to live together. Now, we have to take the responsibility to keep everyone together. We have got majority and we are in power (in Gujarat). We are also in power at the Centre. We have to protect the life, property and dignity of all and build a nation without any bias.”

Vajpayee’s advice for Narendra Modi came at the weekly BJP parliamentary party meeting this morning, the first after the thumping victory.

Weighed down by a larger-than-life garland, Vajpayee told the jubilant MPs what they wanted to hear. But the Prime Minister, unwittingly or otherwise, did make a telling comment: “I can withstand being struck by stones but I cannot carry the weight of flowers.”

The Prime Minister said it was “wrong” to attribute the victory in the elections and the bypolls in various states to the communal divide. Rather, it was a “message” against the Congress.

“In Rajasthan, there was no communal riot or tension, yet we won all three Assembly seats (in the bypoll). We won the Lok Sabha seat in Godda (in Jharkhand) by over a lakh and in Assam, too, the Congress was rejected. It is a clear message that the people don’t want the Congress again,” Vajpayee was quoted as saying by spokesman V.K. Malhotra.

Vajpayee, who official sources said was likely to attend Modi’s swearing-in on December 22, reportedly lavished praise on the “good work” done by the Gujarat government.

Sources said the address was meant to serve a dual purpose: galvanise the party cadre, admittedly demoralised after the earlier debacles, and tell the NDA allies that the “anti-Congress” signal had been flashed “loud and clear” in the run-up to the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. “So they should make common cause with the BJP instead of splitting hairs over small issues like disinvestment,” the sources said.

Today’s meet was bereft of the usual murmurs of dissent. Each member was given five ladoos to “anticipate” the victory in Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh which go to polls in 2003.

n Togadia names price, P 8

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