New Delhi/Ahmedabad, Nov. 15: The voice of the Prime Minister rose above the voice of the party leader as Atal Bihari Vajpayee today rallied behind the Election Commission, asking that the ban on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s proposed Vijay Yatra from Godhra be respected.
“I appeal to all organisations to honour this directive issued by the constitutional authority and help the state administration in discharging its duty,” Vajpayee said in a statement.
The VHP was not listening. Its international general secretary, Praveen Togadia, said the yatra would go ahead as planned on Sunday.
“To organise religious yatra is our fundamental right, which has been violated by the Election Commission. We appeal to the Prime Minister to restore our fundamental right, or else we will fight for our rights, irrespective of consequences,” he said.
The RSS threw its weight behind Vajpayee. “We expected that the VHP would respond positively to the Prime Minister’s advice,” spokesman M.G. Vaidya said.
Through his statement, Vajpayee sought to climb above the welter of lawlessness the Gujarat violence symbolised, just as he had after the Babri demolition. “It is only through the scrupulous obedience of the law that we can enhance the prestige and efficacy of our democracy,” he said.
“On the face of it, the decision might look wrong but, given the circumstances in Gujarat, the ban order is correct,” he said, doing his trademark tightrope walk of a law-abiding liberal who is trying not to provoke the VHP too much.
But the VHP felt incited enough to hint at going beyond the original plan and following a more provocative path by making evocations of the charred Sabarmati Express coach, in which 58 people were burnt alive on February 27 in Godhra, a part of the yatra.
“Initially, there was no plan to show the S-6 coach of the train. But now we may rethink. There will be pictures of the S-6 coach everywhere. In every Hindu family, women will wear it on their saris, boys will wear T-shirts, even undergarments, with the picture of S-6 printed on it,” Togadia said.
Squirming in the dilemma of either having to crack down on the VHP, the Sangh parivar’s backbone in Gujarat, or violating the commission’s order to not allow the yatra, the Narendra Modi administration did not appear to have a strategy in hand.
Government spokesman and urban development minister I.K. Jadeja said: “I cannot tell you how we are going to handle the situation.”
Togadia kept alive the possibility of challenging the ban, accusing the commission of “terrorising” the state administration.
Vajpayee conceded that, with elections less than a month away, it was “natural” and “democratic” for political and social organisations to want to campaign. “However, it is also the democratic duty of one and all to exercise it in a lawful way.”
His message to the BJP’s Gujarat strategists was to focus their campaign on development and governance. He told a TV channel that Godhra should not become an issue.
“If it is done, it will look like there is no other issue and votes are being played around with like a toy.”
The statement highlighted the differences between him and the party. If earlier BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu had declared that the campaign would revolve around the Godhra carnage, yesterday he described the commission directive as “inappropriate”.
Denying differences with Vajpayee, BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the party supported his appeal to honour the ban. But he added: “The decision to ban the yatra has apparently been taken under the influence of the Congress.”
The VHP made it a point to spotlight the contradictions. Its general secretary, Giriraj Kishore, said: “Two distinct voices have emerged in the BJP. The Prime Minister has appreciated J.M. Lyngdoh’s order, while (party) spokesman Arun Jaitley called it destructive and partisan. It seems there is a lack of coordination between the two.”
Sources close to Vajpayee, however, contended that there were no differences.
“The Prime Minister is first the Prime Minister of the country and a BJP leader later. Narendra Modi acted like a chief minister (by enforcing the ban), whether out of compulsion or any other reason. As an elected representative, he is first accountable to the people of Gujarat. However, political parties have their own compulsions and are free to react in whatever way they want,” these sources said.
Vajpayee praised Modi: “The government of Gujarat has done the right thing by acting as per the directive of the EC.”
Kishore was dismissive of Vajpayee, saying he was not a Hindu.
“The Prime Minister does not consider himself a Hindu but a humanist. But even humanists fall into two categories. The Hindutvawadis are the real humanists, the others are the so-called humanists.”
In Ahmedabad, Togadia was tongue-whipping “secularists who want us to forget the Godhra incident, which is like a modern Somnath (referring to the vandalisation of the temple by the Ghaznavis)”.