| Cricketers Sanjay Bangar, Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman with riot-affected children in Ahmedabad on Thursday. On the cricketers’ behalf, Jawagal Srinath said: “We are responsible citizens, let us all take that extra step and walk together. Let us say no to communal violence and killing.” (PTI) 6
Ahmedabad/New Delhi, Nov. 14: In deference to the Election Commission’s order, the Narendra Modi administration in Gujarat today withdrew permission to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to organise a yatra from Godhra on Sunday.
But the VHP said it would still go ahead with its plan. Its international general secretary, Praveen Togadia, said: “The yatra will continue in its own democratic way.”
As the VHP weighed the option of legally opposing the EC ban on the yatra, the BJP sought to start a debate on whether the commission’s order had infringed upon a democratic right. Latent in the remarks of party leaders, who carefully avoided directly criticising the commission, were also questions of credibility.
BJP general secretary and spokesman Arun Jaitley termed the decision “unprecedented” and “inappropriate”. “Every organisation, whether political, social or religious, has a right to carry on its campaign and programmes.”
The Centre has chosen to wait and watch because it does not have a public role to play since law and order is a state subject and the Modi government, severely criticised for its alleged inaction during the February-March riots, will be on trial here.
By following the commission’s direction and getting the Panchmahal district collector, Manoj Agarwal, to overturn the permission given by the sub-divisional magistrate of Godhra, from where the yatra is to begin, the administration has cleared the first test.
“Today we received instructions from the EC and the earlier permission now stands null and void,” Agarwal said.
Despite the torrent of angry words from the VHP and the trickle of subtler aspersions from the BJP, the commission kept up the heat, asking a 20-member team of special observers leaving for Gujarat tomorrow to closely monitor enforcement of the model code of conduct.
Consisting of senior officials of “proven integrity”, the team will check if the state government is complying with the commission’s directives on confidence-building measures. The commission said it would implement the code in “letter and spirit”.
Having once tasted humiliation at the hands of the commission, which chose to hold the elections in December ignoring the state government’s pressure for early polls, Modi is expected to fall in line this time.
“Law and order is a state subject. If, like the VHP, the caretaker government adopts a defiant posture, then the Centre may step in,” sources in Delhi said.
Neither the BJP high command nor the Modi government will want to upset the VHP, on which they are highly dependent for votes. It is, therefore, uncertain how the state administration will handle the situation if the VHP pressed ahead with its threat to take out the yatra.
Accusing Chief Election Commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh of trying to impose his will on the people, Togadia said the “padshahi (on foot) yatra” would commence from Godhra, where 58 people were burnt in a rail coach on February 27.
Calling Godhra the “Somnath (temple) of Gujarat”, he said the yatra would end in Ahmedabad on December 6, the 10th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri mosque.
“I want to tell the entire nation that there will be no violence at all during our yatra. It is a yatra of saints and freedom of expression should not be curbed,” he said.
Togadia denied there were plans to display a replica of the torched coach of the Sabarmati Express. He argued that the commission had no right to ban the yatra as the VHP was a non-political organisation and said the decision had been influenced by media reports. He said Lyngdoh could have asked the VHP for details of the yatra, but did not.
The ban is like “killing a child before it is even born”, he said. The VHP has not even formally announced the programme, Togadia added.
His fulminations were targeted mostly at Lyngdoh who, he said, was trying to be the Gujarat chief minister, chief secretary and collector.
“We have received permission to commence the yatra from Godhra and if it is stalled (Togadia was here speaking before permission was withdrawn), the message that would go is that Lyngdoh has used fascist means to terrorise the bureaucracy here.”