The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP lashes out at poll panel for yatra ban

New Delhi, Nov. 14: Breaking its silence, the BJP today slammed the Election Commission for asking the Gujarat government to prevent the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s “jan jagran yatra which was set to roll from Godhra on Sunday.

“Every organisation, whether political, social or religious has a right to carry on its campaign and programmes,” BJP general secretary and spokesman Arun Jaitley said, terming the advisory “unprecedented” and “inappropriate”.

The Centre, however, has decided to wait and watch despite the VHP’s threat of defying the order. Official sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy L.K. Advani would see how the caretaker government led by Narendra Modi handles the situation. “Law and order is a state subject. If like the VHP the caretaker government adopts a defiant posture, then the Centre may step in,” they said.

But the sources refused to elaborate on what would constitute “defiance”. The indications so far were that the Centre, too, was unwilling to upset the VHP. The BJP’s poll machinery is dependent on the VHP’s organisational network.

Jaitley did not go to the extent of calling J.M. Lyngdoh names — unlike his colleague B.P. Singhal who dubbed the chief election commissioner “Hitlerian” in a TV channel yesterday. But he implied that under Lyngdoh, the poll panel had got into the “political thicket” of events.

“Elections are the essence of democracy. Those who demanded elections were described by the CEC as mad... The EC has an onerous responsibility of conducting free and fair elections. The EC or any of its members are not expected to make statements wherein they are perceived to be entering the political thicket. Unfortunately this golden rule is being repeatedly defied,” he said.

But Jaitley emphasised that the BJP would not challenge the commission’s directive. “This is not an order against the BJP. Our programmes are going on as usual,” he said.

Making a case against the directive, Jaitley pointed out that “several bogeys” were raised about programmes undertaken in Gujarat after the Godhra tragedy but all of them had passed off peacefully. “This campaign was raised when the Jagannath yatra was taken out. The yatra was accomplished peacefully. This campaign was also raised before the Gaurav Yatra started. However, the Gaurav Yatra, despite unprecedented crowds, remained peaceful. Several Moharram processions have been taken out in Gujarat and each of them has been successful,” he said.

According to Jaitley, the commission’s objection arose from the references which the VHP proposed to make to the train carnage during its yatra. But he said similar visuals had been used in the past. In the 1984 elections, the Congress campaign revolved around the blood-soaked body of Indira Gandhi, he said, while in the last Assembly polls in Orissa, the party had a visual on the burning of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his sons.

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