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Soft Congress shy of taming Togadia Climbdown on entry bar

Mumbai, Dec. 23: Reflecting the confusion in dealing with the Hindutva brigade, the Congress-led government in Maharashtra today balked at carrying out a threat to bar the entry of Vishwa Hindu Parishad firebrand Praveen Togadia into the state to take part in a convention.

The Congress-led Democratic Front government had said in a statement yesterday that Togadia would be barred from entering Maharashtra. The government had also said he would not be allowed to make speeches at public rallies.

But, in a climbdown, deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal said it is up to police to decide what to do with Togadia.

The change of course has lent credence to speculation that the Congress is soft-pedalling the issue on fears that a bar on Togadia could alienate a section of Hindus from the party.

The retreat also comes at a time when some Opposition parties, as well as the BJP, have accused the Congress of toeing a “soft Hindutva” line during the Gujarat elections.

Buoyed by the Gujarat triumph and egged on by the reticence of the Maharashtra government, Togadia today dismissed reports of the government ban and said the VHP is ready to install “Hindu rule in the country”.

Togadia is here to arrange the VHP’s five-day Pune convention, beginning on December 25.

He wanted to know if “Maharashtra has turned into Pakistan that it is thinking of banning public speeches by a Hindu leader”.

He wondered whether “Mian Musharraf or the Muslim League is in power here”. “How can they prevent me from making speeches'”

Togadia threw a challenge at the state government and said: “Bhashan to hum zaroor denge (I will make speeches for sure).’’ It was up to the judiciary and not Congress president Sonia Gandhi to judge the nature of his speeches, he said.

After losing in Gujarat, the Congress is running scared; the move to ban his speeches is a direct outcome, Togadia said. “But the government here knows that if there is a ban on me, it will head the way the Congress did in Gujarat.’’

The VHP leader said: “The process has started in Gujarat and the VHP will implement the (Gujarat) experiment everywhere in the country but, of course, in a democratic manner.’’

The VHP’s five-day meet will be a forum at which the highest policy decisions will be taken. Some of the VHP’s top leaders will gather in Pune to discuss a wide array of issues “affecting Hindus and the Hindu rashtra”, he said.

The process of installing Hindu rule in the country will get an ideological thrust in Pune, Togadia said. The VHP took the opportunity to challenge the NDA government at the Centre to ignore the proposed Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Togadia, reacting to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani’s statement that the temple had no place on the NDA agenda, said: “Throw the issue out and you will get Lucknow (where the BJP lost in the last Assembly polls), include it and you will get Gandhinagar.’’

The VHP had taken potshots at the Centre for failing to whip up a Hindutva wave in Uttar Pradesh.

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