The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya ailment revisits Vajpayee

New Delhi, Oct. 21: Growing pressure from the Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a large section of BJP legislators to make a move on the Ram temple is the cause of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “political illness” rather than the Uttar Pradesh turmoil or the divestment controversy.

The “hardline” group, said BJP sources, wants the government to bring a legislation in the winter or budget session of Parliament to enable the transfer of the disputed land in Ayodhya to the VHP-sponsored Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and facilitate construction of the temple.

If the Prime Minister “comes around”, sources said, the next step would be to get the NDA allies to accept the proposal. The NDA convener and defence minister, George Fernandes, has already been sounded on the job of “convincing” them. Fernandes was instrumental in persuading the allies to accept L.K. Advani as deputy Prime Minister and BJP sources claimed he would “succeed” again, if it came to that.

Fernandes’ Samata Party is expected to adopt a resolution on communal harmony at its national executive in Rajkot later this month. The sources said the resolution would appeal to political parties across the board to evolve a consensus on communal harmony. Although it is not expected to mention Ayodhya, Fernandes’ own opinion is that the temple is at the core of communal relations and a solution ought to be found soon.

The demand to bring in the Ayodhya legislation is based on the premise that whether it is passed or not, the issue will be back on centrestage and this alone will help the BJP and its allies win 300 seats in the next Lok Sabha election. It would also help them wrest states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra in the next round of Assembly polls.

BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and Advani himself underlined at recent internal meetings the need for the party to try and get a majority on its own. But, they were quick to add that even if the BJP achieved this target, it would include its current allies in the government.

Sources close to Vajpayee, however, said he is still mulling over the political wisdom of resurrecting the Ayodhya plank when his government has two more years to go. His stand so far has been that the issue is sub judice and that Muslim opinion cannot be ignored.

The Prime Minister, the sources said, views Ayodhya as an “irritant” which he cannot wish away. But his priorities are completing the Golden Quadrilateral road project and initiating a scheme linking the national rivers, endeavours which he believes will earn him a “place in history for the right reasons”.

A day after a “bad throat” made him cut short his visit to Lucknow, where a rebellion is brewing in the BJP, the Prime Minister cancelled all his engagements today again for the same reason. He was to speak at two places and preside over a Cabinet meeting to approve the Tenth Plan.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said doctors examined Vajpayee this morning and advised him not to strain his throat. “The Prime Minister’s health is all right. He is clearing files,” the spokesman said.

But once Vajpayee called off his engagements, there was speculation that he wanted to avoid facing questions on divestment at the Cabinet meeting after minister Arun Shourie spoke out against the Shiv Sena over the sale of the government-owned Centaur Hotel in Mumbai.

However, BJP sources said there were no “ideological” contradictions over divestment and attributed the controversy to a “clash of personal interests”. The RSS, too, has little problem with divestment because it was the Sangh that first pressed for internal liberalisation and abolition of inspector raj.

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