| Prime Minister AB Vajpayee with a bouquet given to him by minister of parliamentary affairs Pramod Mahajan before entering Parliament for the winter session. (AFP)
New Delhi, Nov. 18: Attempting to scotch speculation about a rift between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and himself, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said: “The Prime Minister and I are treading the same path regardless of what you say.”
Advani, also the home minister, was replying to a Lok Sabha discussion on an adjournment motion moved by the Opposition on the communal situation in Gujarat. He took the opportunity to “clear his name” and counter the not-so-veiled suggestions levelled by Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi about differences between him and the Prime Minister.
“Aap ne bahut chaturayee ke saath kaha ki Vajpayee yeh kahte hain aur Advani yeh kahte hain. Lekin hum dono ek saath chal rahe hain, (Though you have very cunningly tried to suggest that Vajpayee says one thing and Advani another, the two of us are walking the same path),” Advani said.
“We have walked together for long and will continue to do so,” he added in an echo of the statement Vajpayee had made at a rally in Delhi recently as Advani had looked on. Today, Vajpayee was in the listener’s chair.
Das Munshi had suggested that while the Prime Minister had spoken out by supporting the Election Commission decision to ban the VHP’s yatra, his deputy was silent because he was not able to reconcile his official duties with his political and ideological convictions.
“If the Prime Minister could intervene in the controversy, don’t you think you as deputy Prime Minister should have broken your silence'” he asked.
The adjournment motion, defeated by a voice vote, came at the end of a day-long debate. For Advani, who insisted that there was no “need for a discussion” on Gujarat at this juncture, it, however, presented an opportunity to address some of the speculation that was gaining ground within and outside his party.
His “clarification” was an apparent response to reports that he was “unhappy” with Vajpayee’s statement backing the commission’s order. Sources close to Advani had questioned the logic of making such a statement.
“This is making a mountain out of a molehill. There were apprehensions earlier that the Jagannath yatra (in Ahmedabad) and Narendra Modi’s Rath yatra would unleash communal trouble. But nothing happened. Why did the EC then stop the VHP yatra on the basis of a mere presumption'” they asked.
BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu’s description of the ban as “inappropriate” and spokesman Arun Jaitley’s label of “unprecedented” were believed to have reflected the Advani line as both are known loyalists.
If there were differences, Advani set out to bury that notion with the thumping endorsement that what Vajpayee had said was “absolutely correct”. “The electoral issue in Gujarat should not be Godhra and what happened later but good governance,” he said in an iteration of the Prime Minister’s statement.
Speaking in one voice, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi himself affirmed that Godhra would not be an issue. “BJP will seek votes on its performance. Godhra will not be an issue but if it is raised by the Opposition, we will give them an apt answer,” he said in Delhi today.
Advani patted Modi on the back, saying: “Before coming here I was reading an interview given by Narendra Modi in which he has focused on the various issues of good governance reflecting his vision of the state.”
“BJP and other related organisations should see that the elections are free and fair and that good governance and safety of minorities are key poll issues,” he said.
Recalling that India chose to remain secular at the time of Independence when Pakistan became an Islamic state, Advani said those Muslims who remained in India are “sons of Mother India”.
India “can never be declared a Hindu state”, he added.