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PM: We don’t want war but…

New Delhi, March 11: A day after an all-party meet convened by the Prime Minister failed to reach a consensus on passing a resolution against a probable US strike on Iraq, Atal Bihari Vajpayee today said India does not want a war.

Addressing the weekly BJP parliamentary party meeting, Vajpayee was quoted by spokesman V.K. Malhotra as saying: “We do not want a war against Iraq. But if it becomes inevitable, I assure you the government will rise to meet the challenge and do everything to protect national interest.”

BJP sources said the Prime Minister’s suo motu statement was meant to counteract the perception that the Indian political establishment was split over Iraq. The NDA was seen as being “soft” on America while the Opposition, particularly the Left, was for outright condemnation of the US.

“The Opposition tried to give the impression that the country was divided after the meeting and that the US-Iraq (stand-off) was a civilisational clash. This is far from the truth because the biggest opposition to the war came from Christian-majority countries while the Islamic nations surrounding Iraq have been silent. There was unanimity that there should be no war. The only contentious point was on passing a resolution,” sources said.

The government and the BJP opposed a resolution for two reasons, the sources said. “When war has not broken out, what is the need for a resolution' Before action there is no need for condemnation.

Second, India is already bound to a resolution passed in the recent Nam summit which unambiguously said Iraq should be given more time.”

Although party legislators led by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu felicitated Vajpayee for his “successful” five-year tenure --- which he completed today if his earlier stint in 1998-99 is taken into account --- the Prime Minister reportedly sounded less gung-ho.

Stating that credit should also go to Advani, the BJP and the NDA, Malhotra quoted Vajpayee as saying: “The conditions we passed through in the last five years were exacting and crucial. But we successfully met the challenges before us. People are ready to accept us (for another tenure) but we must decide whether we are ready to face the people.”

Citing the Himachal election results, Malhotra said: “We should draw the lesson that development alone doesn’t deliver votes. If there is no cohesion in the party at every level, then our slogan of the BJP being a party with a difference is meaningless.”

As a first step to instil the “spirit of discipline”, Advani said Naidu was from now on authorised to take action against members who challenged the Centre’s policies in public. The decision was apparently provoked by Bilhaur MP Shyam Bihari Mishra’s participation in an Uttar Pradesh traders’ demonstration against the Centre’s move to impose VAT in states.

Legislators were also told to be more “alert” in parliamentary standing committee meetings and not allow the Opposition to “steamroll” it on policy issues. “They were told to give dissenting notes wherever necessary,” said Malhotra. The context for this advice was a report of the standing committee on transport, tourism and culture which demanded a Central Vigilance Commission probe into the sale of Mumbai’s Centaur Hotel first to Batra Hospitality and then to the Sahara Group.

To “celebrate” Vajpayee’s five-year stint in office, the BJP has organised mass contact programmes from March 19 ---when he took the oath of office in 1998 --- to April 6, the day the BJP was founded.

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