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Sushma wards off Ayodhya criticism

New Delhi, Feb. 21: Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj countered the Opposition’s criticism of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement on Ayodhya — made during his election campaign in Himachal Pradesh — and stressed that the Prime Minister will respect the court’s verdict on the dispute.

The entire Opposition, joined by lone NDA member Devendra Prasad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United), accused Vajpayee of “trying to influence the court” in the Lok Sabha today.

Vajpayee had said in Mandi yesterday that he was “confident” that historical and other evidence would establish that a temple existed at the site of the demolished Babri mosque.

Replying to the Opposition’s charges, Swaraj said: “To say in a public meeting that despite the evidence in favour of a temple, he will respect the court verdict is the highest assurance the Prime Minister can give to the nation and Parliament. Is it a statement which was made to ease communal tension or exacerbate them'”

Swaraj said she spoke to Vajpayee this morning and the Prime Minister made it clear that there was no question of disrespecting the court’s verdict.

Today was the BJP’s day to support Vajpayee on the temple and cow-slaughter issues. Human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi issued a statement that said the Congress owed an apology to the Prime Minister for making “wild allegations” against him on beef eating.

The Congress, at its official briefing, released a collection of anti-Vajpayee slogans allegedly coined by Madhya Pradesh Youth Congress chief Meenakshi Natarjan. One of them said: “Gaumaans ka kaun vyapari, Atal Bihari, Atal Bihari” (who is a trader of beef, it’s Atal Bihari, Atal Bihari) while another read, “Pehle Ram naam bech satta payee, ab gaiya teri baari aayee” (First they used Ram’s name to come to power, now cow it’s your turn).

But in the Lok Sabha, the proceedings turned acrimonious after Samajwadi Party MP Ramji Lal Suman said: “Today was the Supreme Court’s hearing. Before that, for the Prime Minister to make such a statement is a serious matter.”

The CPM’s Basudeb Acharya joined in, saying that Vajpayee’s statement was “nothing but a strategy to win (the) elections in Himachal”. He asked if Vajpayee was in possession of “incontrovertible” evidence why he did not hand it to the court.

Congress leader S. Jaipal Reddy said: “Vajpayee is the Prime Minister of India, not the leader of a party. He cannot speak on behalf of one litigating party in a pending dispute, this is improper. He spoke in an election campaign and violated the model code of conduct. I do not know what anyone can do if the Prime Minister violates the code.”

Things got out of hand after the BJP, the Shiv Sena and Samata members took up cudgels on Vajpayee’s behalf. Samata leader Prabhunath Singh’s poser to the Opposition was: “All Hindu granthas say Ram was born in Ayodhya. If a temple is not built for him in Ayodhya, should it be constructed in Pakistan'”

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