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Court move quietens VHP

New Delhi, Feb. 6: A day after the Centre moved Supreme Court for vacation of the stay on religious activity on the 67.703 acres in Ayodhya the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas claims as its own, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad showed signs that it may tone down its stridency.

Rejecting the legal distinction between “disputed” and “undisputed” land, its feisty general secretary, Praveen Togadia, had yesterday threatened to launch a jan andolan if the Centre did not hand over the land before February 22. But VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore today said: “Our focus would be on the 43 acres of undisputed land. As for the disputed part, we will await the court verdict.”

For the record, Kishore maintained that the VHP would “abide” by any decision the dharam sansad takes in a meeting between February 22 and 24. But while Togadia had scoffed at the Centre’s intentions, Kishore seemed conciliatory.

Stating that he learnt about the Centre’s move “formally” yesterday, he said: “I can’t say with what feelings it was done. I can only say, better late than never. (The) Centre knew for a long time that the dharam sansad would meet on these dates and it may take a harsh decision. But even after that it delayed its response. This creates doubt in our mind.”

Later, he clarified that the “doubt” was about the Centre’s ability to deliver on four fronts before the dharam sansad: getting the stay order vacated, quashing the petition filed by Aslam Bhure that led to the order, returning the Nyas’ “land” and giving the go-ahead for construction.

“If the government and court are decisive, results can be achieved,” he said. If something “concrete” is obtained on one front at least, the sants would “reflect (on it) in their next step”, he added.

The apparent softening of tone came after VHP chief Ashok Singhal and RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi felt that the Centre should be “given a chance” to exhaust the legal option before a new front is opened. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi, who has been enlisted as Vajpayee’s Ayodhya trouble-shooter, reportedly spoke at length to both.

VHP sources distanced themselves from Togadia today and said he had addressed the press “on his own”. “He was meant to speak to just one TV channel but somehow the press landed to hear him,” said the sources. But the VHP media manager had yesterday taken pains to inform the journalists that Togadia would speak to them not at the media centre, but at the RK Puram headquarters at “sharp 2.30 pm”.

Kishore took care not to annoy either the hardline constituency or the ruling establishment. He said the Kanchi sankaracharya, who has worked on Vajpayee’s behalf, would not have the last word on the matter.

“The dharam sansad’s word is final,” he said.

BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi welcomed the Centre’s efforts and said it was “committed to peacefully resolving the Ayodhya issue”. Party sources hoped the first leg of the combined efforts of Vajpayee, Joshi, Devi, Singhal and, of course, the sankaracharya would “at least” spare the Centre the embarrassment of being slammed by the sants at the start of the budget session.

Interestingly, the damage control happened when deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was out of the country. His loyalist and BJP president, M. Venkaiah Naidu, too, was not involved in the discussions.

Muslim groups were critical of the Centre’s move. Former MP Syed Shahabuddin, who represents the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, said “nothing of legal significance has occurred since last year (when the court gave the stay order) to justify the request for a review”.

Shahabuddin said he would ask the All India Muslim Personal Law Board to “intervene” in the case once hearings begin since it is a party to it. “Our members can’t be watching like trees any more. They must intervene and present their legal points,” he said.

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