The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Fernandes rediscovers secularism

New Delhi, Oct. 5: Samata Party president George Fernandes, who had remained silent on the Gujarat riots, seemed to awake to the virtues of secularism today and expressed serious concern over communal disharmony in the country.

The defence minister said secularism was fundamental to our thinking and that all parties should work together to maintain communal harmony in the state. The Samata Party will adopt a resolution on secularism at its national executive and council meetings to be held at Rajkot from October 29 to 31 and circulate it among the parties, Fernandes added.

Stating that secularism formed the basis of the Constitution, Fernandes accused Pakistan of making political capital out of incidents of communal disharmony in India. When there are deviations in communal harmony, “we have to bear the brunt of our neighbour whose foundation was based on religion”.

He refuted suggestions that the resolution was being brought with controversial Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in mind. “It is not focussed on any individual or any incident,” Fernandes said.

Addressing a news conference here, Fernandes said though Pakistan was created after partitioning the country, “whoever was born here is a citizen of this country irrespective of his or her religion”.

Asked why the positives of secularism suddenly dawned on him, an irked Fernandes blamed the media for not allowing peace to return to strife-torn Gujarat.

“Your party president Jaya Jaitly wrote an article praising Narendra Modi”, said a reporter. Fernandes shot back: “Jaya Jaitly is not my party president.”

The leader was further agitated when a reporter asked whether he still stood by his statement exonerating the VHP of any involvement in the gruesome killings of Graham Staines and his children, saying it was an “international conspiracy”.

Stating that the media was not doing justice to him by questioning his secular credentials, he said he had risked his life by leading a peace march immediately after the outbreak of riots in Gujarat earlier this year.

Asked about the VHP’s criticism of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Fernandes said he did not want to be drawn into a matter pertaining to the BJP and its affiliate organisations. “The Prime Minister is competent to deal with it. He is ten times more competent than what you think,” he retorted.

Fernandes said his party was not yet decided on seat adjustments with the BJP in the Gujarat elections. The Rajkot meeting will finalise the strategy for the Assembly election, he added.

The defence minister also welcomed Lok Janshakti Party(R) leader Rajaram Pandey into the Samata fold.

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