The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong desert storm to shed soft tag
- Stung by criticism over Digvijay’s policy, high command allows Gehlot to crack down

New Delhi, April 17: Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot’s move to arrest VHP leader Praveen Togadia might help the Congress leadership counter a growing perception that the party is quietly pursuing a soft Hindutva line to take on the BJP.

The Congress has been virtually stuck with the tag since last December’s Gujarat elections, which it lost.

Under Shankersinh Vaghela, a former Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist, the party leadership in Gujarat was widely perceived to have toed the line to counter Narendra Modi’s aggressive Hindutva campaign. This has prompted a debate within the party on how to successfully counter the BJP’s Hindutva.

Though party chief Sonia Gandhi and other Central leaders have dismissed all talk of soft Hindutva, which they say is a media-created perception, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh’s handling of certain issues have been seen as some kind of an indulgence. One of them is his virtual advocacy of a nationwide ban on cow slaughter.

The high command’s prolonged public silence on Digvijay’s moves has been interpreted as a sign of quiet tolerance.

Every time Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy or his juniors were asked about an act that smacked of a soft-Hindutva approach, the stock response has been: “We will have to ascertain the facts of the matter from the chief minister before we can comment.”

A considered response is yet to come.

However, in private, AICC functionaries have at times suggested that Digvijay may have been granted some freedom by the high command to chalk out the party’s strategy for the Assembly elections in November.

Even so, his noises have not been too comfortable for the central leadership, which is believed to have told him to proceed cautiously while countering the BJP’s Uma Bharti in the run-up to the polls.

Having come under criticism for Digvijay’s approach, the Congress leadership is understood to have backed Gehlot’s tough action against Togadia.

But the support for Gehlot’s move, party sources said, did not mean any kind of censure for Digvijay’s approach to the polls in Madhya Pradesh. Chief ministers, they added, have some liberty to determine their strategies and tactics.

“We endorse the Gehlot government’s move to proceed against Togadia as per law,” said a senior AICC functionary.

The functionary also recalled that the central leadership had instructed all Congress chief ministers not to allow any communal and provocative campaign by Sangh parivar leaders like Togadia.

The instruction from the leadership came in the wake of the campaign the Sangh leaders had launched in Gujarat ahead of the Assembly polls.

Incidentally, some Congress leaders are believed to have complained to the party leadership against a couple of Congress chief ministers for failing to foil Togadia’s provocative forays in their states.

“Gehlot has now acted against the VHP leader. We support it,” the AICC functionary said.

The Rajasthan government has also introduced in the Assembly a Bill similar to the anti-terror legislation.

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