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Naidu puts drought before temple

New Delhi, Feb. 8: Much to Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s relief, key ally and Telugu Desam Party chief Chandrababu Naidu did not rake up the Ayodhya issue during a 15-minute one-to-one with the Prime Minister here today. The Andhra Pradesh chief minister only talked business, economy, drought and development projects for his state.

Asked why the Ayodhya issue was skipped, he said his meeting with Vajpayee was rushed and he chose to take up the most important issue of drought.

After the Prime Minister, he met the finance minister and the urban development minister and discussed several state issues. Naidu, who was here to attend the chief ministers’ conference on internal security, sought liberal assistance to tide over the crisis created by the drought.

Obviously, Ayodhya was not on his list of priorities. Naidu’s refrain was that divisive issues would not pay electoral dividends, performance would. Reiterating that his party is “totally secular”, the Desam chief said “everybody has political compulsions, but the court has to decide finally”.

He dismissed fears that the BJP and the Sangh parivar are hyping the issue to turn it into a potential election plank.

“Polls are one-and-a-half years away. This will not help anybody, people are very clever. They judge you by your performance,” he said.

But for the consumption of his constituency back home, Naidu told a TV channel from the state later that if the VHP created trouble, “we will react strongly at that time”.

When reporters asked whether he was not concerned about the government moving Supreme Court, he parroted his party’s oft-repeated stand: “Our leader (K. Yerran Naidu) has already reacted. (The) TDP is very clear from the beginning that the matter has to be settled through court or political consensus. We are supporting the NDA from outside. Our stand is very clear. The court has to decide.”

Queried whether the government was deviating from the NDA agenda by reviving an issue pending before the court, he said: “The court can reject the government’s plea.”

But what if the government hands over the undisputed land to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas through an executive order, he was asked.

“The Supreme Court will keep all these points in mind,” said Naidu. There were differences among political parties and religious groups on the issue and the only way out was to wait for the court verdict.

“There is no political solution. Everybody has to depend on a legal solution,” he said.

He hedged another question on whether the NDA government was straying from the National Agenda of Governance by telling the questioner, “you read the agenda and tell me”.

During his meeting with finance minister Jaswant Singh, Naidu suggested that a draft general budget be discussed in public as he had done in his state. Barring expenditure, other things could be discussed, he said.

Naidu said the Andhra Pradesh budget will be discussed at the village level this year and the work of all departments will be debated.

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