The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong buys time on temple

New Delhi, Feb. 18: Much to the relief of the Congress which did not want a discussion on Ayodhya before the Himachal Pradesh elections, the Lok Sabha will debate the issue on February 26, when voting in the state is almost over.

The CPM wanted to move an adjournment motion today, which would have stopped all other business for the discussion. But under pressure from the Congress, it decided to seek a debate on February 26 under Rule 184, which entails voting.

Speaker Manohar Joshi is yet to decide under what rule the discussion should be allowed.

The matter was taken up in the Business Advisory Committee meeting today after the Lok Sabha was rocked by acrimonious exchanges between the Opposition and treasury benches.

Asked why they did not insist on an immediate discussion as planned earlier, CPM leader Somnath Chatterjee said several top Congress leaders are leaving to campaign in Himachal and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav will be busy canvassing for the Uttar Pradesh bypoll.

Officially, the Congress tried to dispel the impression that it is soft-peddling the Ayodhya issue. Party president Sonia Gandhi favoured “status quo” on Ayodhya and said everybody should wait for the Supreme Court verdict.

Party spokesperson Satyabrata Chaturvedi said the “Congress is not opposed to construction of the Ram temple but it is for the court to decide where it should be constructed in Ayodhya”. He accused the BJP and the Sangh parivar of raking up the temple issue ahead of the Assembly polls in some states.

Addressing a general body meeting of the Congress parliamentary party, Sonia said: “On the Ayodhya issue, we have all along stated that we should wait for and respect the verdict of the judiciary and till then nothing should be done to disturb the status quo.”

Sonia pointed out that the 1994 Supreme Court verdict had specifically forbidden the “handing over” of any part of the 67 acres of acquired land to any party before the final settlement of the main Ayodhya title deed.

Earlier in the day, an agitated Opposition created a furore in the Lok Sabha, demanding suspension of Question Hour to discuss the Ayodhya issue.

But Speaker Manohar Joshi asked members to wait for a decision by the business advisory committee.

A row broke out between the treasury and the Opposition benches when Joshi allowed Mulayam Singh Yadav, Somnath Chatterjee and Shivraj Patil, who had moved the notices to suspend the Question Hour, to speak.

Opposition leaders launched a scathing attack on the government and charged it with becoming “a party to divisive tendencies” by moving the Supreme Court on the undisputed land when the “real issues” were yet to be decided.

As the Speaker allowed Mulayam to argue why question hour should be suspended to discuss Ayodhya, BJP members Vinay Katiyar and Kirti Azad said there was no reason to suspend the question hour.

Somnath Chatterjee said “patriotism is not their (BJP’s) monopoly. They are trying to divide the country and we are trying to keep it united”. The statement caused turmoil in the House, with BJP members protesting it.

“It is a diabolical move to divide the country on the basis of religion and rouse passions of obscuranticism and fanaticism,” he said. Chatterjee alleged that the government’s “intention was to hand over the disputed land to VHP without waiting for a decision on the main matter”.

BJP chief whip V. K. Malhotra said it was “unfortunate” that the Opposition was trying to stall moves to allow the proposed temple to be built on “undisputed land”. He said the Centre wanted to resolve the age-old tangle but the Opposition did not want it to do so.

Later, briefing reporters, Chatterjee said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee “stands totally unmasked. He has surrendered to Advani, Togadia and company”. He said the “government’s action is totally destructive and goes contrary to the President’s address”.

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