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Vajpayee ropes in Joshi for temple mission

New Delhi, Feb. 5: As the Vishwa Hindu Parishad upped the ante on the Ram temple, threatening to hit the streets if the “undisputed” land is not returned before February 23, the Centre went on a fire-fighting mission on the political and legal fronts.

Sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee involved human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi in a big way. Sources close to both confirmed Joshi was the only other person present at the meeting the Prime Minister had with Kanchi sankaracharya Swami Jayendra Saraswati yesterday.

Although Joshi turned out to be Vajpayee’s reliable trouble-shooter whenever he found the going tough with the RSS or the VHP, the minister’s presence at the meeting had an added dimension.

BJP sources said that among party leaders, Joshi has the “best rapport” with VHP chief Ashok Singhal. Their relationship goes back to their days in Allahabad. Both are from this town.

Joshi met Singhal last week when he was in Allahabad reportedly to find ways and means of tackling the temple imbroglio. Sources said he was likely to have another session with Singhal and other senior VHP functionaries later this week to take stock of the developments following the Kanchi seer’s fresh initiative.

BJP sources claimed they were not “unduly worried” by the fresh fusillade fired by VHP general secretary Praveen Togadia.

“Find out who authorised Togadia to speak out or whether he did it unilaterally,” said sources, in what was apparently a clear hint that the VHP was no longer as monolithic as it appeared.

Sangh sources indicated that Singhal was “unhappy” with Togadia’s endeavour to project himself on the Hindutva centre-stage and steal the show from the best-known public face of the temple agitation. It seemed Singhal had shared his feelings in this regard with Joshi.

“Singhal will, of course, assess the cadre mood before he attempts to rein in Togadia,” the sources added. “If the cadre is for a temple, he will play along with them.”

For public consumption, the BJP has made it amply clear that it supported the VHP’s demand for the getting back the “undisputed” land. Party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu was quoted by agencies as saying that the Centre should “remove all legal hurdles” to facilitate temple construction.

“As far as the disputed land is concerned, we are of the view that all concerned should abide by the court verdict or a mutually workable solution,” he told reporters in Hyderabad.

Welcoming the Kanchi seer’s efforts, he said: “I move one step forward in appealing to the government to explore all possibilities of removing legal hurdles in handing over the undisputed land for construction of the temple.”

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