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Mulayam stands by BJP, Ram raises eyebrows

Lucknow, April 12: The BJP and the Samajwadi Party came to a tacit agreement to not politicise the 26 deaths that occurred in the stampede here today, but Ram Jethmalani, the Congress-supported Independent candidate against Atal Bihari Vajpayee, questioned the propriety of distributing saris amid campaigning.

Mayavati of the Bahujan Samaj Party kept her counsel.

Campaigning outside the capital, Samajwadi Party head and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav rushed back and went into a huddle with BJP leader Lalji Tandon — saris were being distributed on the occasion of his birthday today — for half an hour.

After the meeting, he told the media: “This is not the time to trade allegations and counter-allegations. A grave tragedy has happened and we are all sad. His (Tandon’s) intention was good, he wanted to do something noble on his birthday but unfortunately this happened.”

The Samajwadi leader was remarkably sympathetic towards the BJP, which was his main enemy in Uttar Pradesh till the other day.

Shell-shocked by the stampede because it occurred in Vajpayee’s constituency — where Tandon is the Prime Minister’s minder — the BJP was waiting for a signal from the top before speaking.

“We will see what the Prime Minister says,” Om Prakash Singh, a senior functionary, said.

As he hurried back to Lucknow from campaigning in eastern Uttar Pradesh on hearing news of the tragedy, Mulayam looked worried with BJP supporters alleging that the incident was the result of an Opposition-inspired conspiracy to defame Vajpayee.

Tandon, who looked equally distraught, said: “There is no need to link it with politics. I asked the government for help and the chief minister promptly agreed.” He argued that since the function was not party-related, “there is no question of anyone trying to sabotage it and as such there is no need for an inquiry”.

Tandon said that for the past four years, Bajendra Murari Yadav, whom he described as a fan, has been organising a sari-distribution programme. “Poor women gather in a big park and I give four or five saris as a symbolic gesture of the 15,000 that are distributed. This year the same ritual was followed in the presence of the chief guest, Sanatan Shree, a sanyasi. I felt happy when I left the place,” he said.

He, however, admitted that the venue was changed this year to Chandrashekhar Azad Park in Mahanagar, a middle-class residential colony. “There were several thousand women and the space may have been larger or smaller, I can’t say.”

While chief election commissioner T.S. Krishnamurthy, who was in Lucknow today to confer with state officials, said he had sought a report from the chief secretary, Tandon suggested he was not clear whether today’s programme would violate the model code of conduct.

The district administration’s permission was not sought to hold the programme. “Permission is necessary for holding public meetings. But it cannot be enforced for private functions. Just because elections are on does it mean we stop celebrating birthdays and weddings'” Tandon asked.

The party was, however, more circumspect. Although the Uttar Pradesh unit announced a payment of Rs 50,000 to the families of the deceased, it said it would check with election officials before disbursing the money.

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