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Advani puts govt before temple law

New Delhi, Aug. 9: Two statements L.K. Advani made today indicate a new “moderate” deputy Prime Minister could be emerging from the ongoing churning to “de-ideologise governance”.

Advani told reporters accompanying him to Hyderabad that the government was in no mood to indulge the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and give in to its demand for a law on the Ram temple at the cost of sacrificing its coalition at the Centre.

Addressing the BJP’s defence cell at the party headquarters later, he did not harp on his pet themes of “hot pursuit” and cross-border terror. Instead, he focused on good governance and converting “swarajya” (independence) to “surajya” (good governance).

Declaring that the Lok Sabha elections would be contested under Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s leadership, he said: “People will give their mandate to Vajpayee and he will lead the country for years to come. I am happy that Vajpayee has not only given political stability to the country but used the opportunity to honour the mandate for a good government.”

His remarks in Hyderabad surprised the BJP, which is at a loss why the VHP announced its next phase of agitation for a law on Ayodhya would exclude the states going to polls in November. Sources wondered whether it was a warning to the BJP not to expect the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to campaign for the party or a “gesture of consideration” for not creating law and order problems in the run-up to the polls.

Sources saw VHP vice-president Acharya Giriraj Kishore’s response as “confirmation” of the first theory. “We knew from the beginning that the BJP will not like to leave the government. That is why we have decided that we will start an agitation,” Kishore said. The contours of the agitation will be finalised at a meeting of the marg darshak mandal on September 13.

The RSS reaction was more moderate. Spokesperson Ram Madhav said: “When to sacrifice the government should be left to the party. We want the mandir to be built, we also want the government to continue.”

Although BJP leaders are as keen as the VHP to build a temple, they know the National Democratic Alliance will splinter if the Centre tries to push through a law in Parliament. “The VHP wants us to bring such a legislation which will definitely not get passed in Parliament. It wants us to contest elections on this plank. We are not ready to sacrifice the government,” Advani said.

With his words, the deputy Prime Minister has sent a clear signal to the BJP’s allies that the government will stick to the NDA agenda. This has not amused the VHP, which has been critical of both Vajpayee and Advani in recent months.

A BJP source said Advani’s words could not be taken to mean that the party would not push for a temple during electioneering. “This does not mean the BJP has dropped the Ram temple from its agenda, but this will be the party’s individual agenda and not the NDA’s,” the source said.

Both Vajpayee and Advani have always maintained that the BJP’s agenda is not the same as the NDA’s. “We are not ready to bring a legislation to create a division.... But a real solution lies in an agreement between the two communities and I am optimistic it is going to come,” Advani said.

Pointing out that the government would not bring in a law that would be defeated in Parliament, he said: “For such a bill to be passed in Parliament, there will have to be a consensus not only within the NDA but also the Opposition.”

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