The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee finds his voice

Mountains are being made of molehills. We (Vajpayee and Advani) have worked together and will continue to do so…. We will walk together, speak together and face challenges together


New Delhi, Oct. 25: A day after reaching a truce of sorts with the RSS, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came into his own, tackling controversial issues and expressing his opinion without mincing words.

“What happened in Gujarat cannot and must not be forgotten. Let us take a pledge that Gujarat will never be repeated,” he said, addressing a rally at the Talkatora Stadium to mark three years of his government.

In a clear message to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and VHP leaders who had badmouthed the minorities, Sonia Gandhi and Brajesh Mishra lately, Vajpayee said: “There is no place for violence or abusive language in politics.”

“One should not cross the limits of decency and decorum and only civilised language should be used,” he said.

Breaking his silence, apparently forced by a bad throat but giving rise to all manner of speculation, the Prime Minister took gentle swipes at members of his political and ideological family, including Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala, former Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah and Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna.

But it was the reference to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani at the end of his speech which assured the gathering that the recent “illness” had not dulled Vajpayee’s eloquence. Advani refused to speak despite being listed as a speaker and despite repeated requests from BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu and NDA convener George Fernandes.

Vajpayee said: “I was advised to speak less and I wanted Advani to speak. But he did not and that I am sure will make big news with headlines like Vajpayee aur Advani ke beech sangharsh (war between Vajpayee and Advani). But we have worked together in the past and will do so in the future.”

The context for this was the interpretation given to cancellation of a news conference in his constituency last Sunday. “I called off my Lucknow press conference because of a bad throat. But I did address a meeting later because it was pre-arranged. But when I opened the papers next day, what did I see' ‘Atal Bihari Vajpayee flees Lucknow!’ Why should I flee Lucknow' It’s my constituency, a place where I threw stones and had stones thrown at me. The press is free to write what it wants but I may not relish a headline like Lal Krishna Advani refuses to speak.”

The most credible explanation for Advani not speaking today was that he had already said all that he had wanted to on October 18, on the government’s third anniversary, when the Prime Minister was out of the country.

“Big goals cannot be attained with small hearts. Everybody should work together to meet the challenges ahead,” Vajpayee said, leaving it open to interpretation whose “heart” he was speaking of.

There was no direct reference to the bickering within the Sangh, apart from the statement (again, this could have been addressed to anyone): “Criticism has its place but working in unison for the country is more important.”

The Haryana chief minister was not as lucky. Speaking on the recent lynching of Dalits in Jhajhar, he looked at Chautala and said: “Pardon me for saying so Mr Chautala, you have ordered a probe into the incident, but don’t Dalits have the right to life'”

Describing Gujarat and Jhajhar as “not big challenges”, Vajpayee added: “Nonetheless, they are central to the character of our society and polity.”

Even Abdullah, who tried to sound more “nationalist” than the BJP today, was not out of Vajpayee’s radar of rebuke. Labelling the Jammu and Kashmir elections a “turning point in the nation’s history”, he said: “Farooq Abdullah and his party had a big role to play in the free and fair conduct of elections. A change was possible with everyone’s cooperation. But the people of Jammu, Leh-Ladakh and the Valley were not happy with the ruling party’s policies. Those in power should try and please all sections. That didn’t happen in Jammu and Kashmir.”

Vajpayee listed among his government’s achievements the killing of the terrorists who had attacked Parliament and the Akshardham temple as important ones.

“Our security forces ensured that the two terrorists who came to kill the MPs were buried in the country and their corpses were not sent out. The same in Akshardhdam. Our jawans saw to it that the terrorists were slain in the temple complex.”

Terming terrorism a “rakshas” (demon) which must be vanquished, the Prime Minister regretted that the world had not yet focussed its war against terrorism “properly”.

“They are not ready to distinguish between terrorism and terrorist states. Our neighbour is part of the international coalition against terrorism but it keeps sending fidayeen to our country to kill women and children,” he said.

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