The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Family feud on VHP payback

New Delhi, Nov. 20: The BJP today rose to defend L.K. Advani, a day after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad branded the deputy Prime Minister a “pseudosecularist” and slighted his understanding of Hindutva.

At a press briefing, party spokesman V.K. Malhotra said there was no need for this controversy. “The VHP leaders should go through Advani’s speech (in Parliament on November 18) before making any observation on it,” he said, adding that the BJP would soon send the VHP a copy of the speech.

Malhotra pointed out that Advani had used the phrase “Hindu rajya” and not “Hindu rashtra”. “In the Hindu ethos, there is no place for religion in politics. Hindu tradition never accepts religious heads in political office,” he said.

The spokesman said the BJP agreed with the Supreme Court’s observation that Hindutva was not a religion and that even the Constituent Assembly had said India would never be a theocratic state. Advani, he emphasised, had reiterated what was said in the Constituent Assembly.

In the Rajya Sabha, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat echoed Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani’s line on secularism. Shekhawat, who was regarded as the BJP’s second “liberal” face after Vajpayee, admitted there was a serious threat to the “bonds of national integration as also the secular fabric of our republic”. “The state has to observe sarva dharma sambhaav and be guided by its raj dharma,” he said. “However, manifestations of social and religious disharmony have sadly been on the increase.”

Thanking the House for felicitating him on assuming the chairperson’s office, Shekhawat emphasised that progress was possible only in an “environment of peace and social harmony”. India’s “enemies”, he went on to say, were using terrorism as a “weapon to stall our development”. “To fully combat terrorism, we have to remain united and share the vision of resurgent India, strong in its purpose and steadfast in its will to forge ahead.”

In his debut address, applauded by the political establishment, Shekhawat was politically correct on every issue he touched on, be it democracy or the link between governance and public welfare. He described himself as a “poor and ordinary farmer’s son” who “very closely observed and intimately felt the poverty and sufferings of our farmers, weavers, artisans and daily wage workers”.

“We in this Parliament have been entrusted with the historic responsibility of directing our efforts to solve the problems of the people. The success of democracy is, therefore, to be gauged by the extent of welfare it promotes for the people,” he said.

Shekhawat said Parliament is regarded as a role model by state legislatures, zilla parishads and other elected bodies and added it was time to ask whether the right standards had been set.

“Are we giving adequate time and attention to issues such as national security, or issues of poverty, unemployment and population control, or problems of farmers and labour..' Did we not make several pious and noble resolutions while celebrating the 50 years of our independence and again while celebrating the 50 years of our republic' Have we acted on these resolutions in good faith'” he asked before quoting from the Bhagwad Gita: “What the elder person does is followed by others; what he demonstrates by action, that people follow.”

Shekhawat’s humility prompted a tribute from Vajpayee, who said: “You emerged from the mud and became the sandalwood of our forehead.” But Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav could not resist a few cracks at him. Laloo Prasad congratulated Shekhawat for getting out of the BJP “at the right time” to occupy the Vice-President’s office. “You have left the party at the right time,” he said. “The party with which you were associated will very soon cease to exist.”

Shekhawat’s assurance from the “centre” point in which he was seated that he would always look “straight, for in the discharge of my duties there is no bias, no colour, no ideology, no leanings” apparently left the RJD chief unmoved. He reminded Shekhawat that he was no longer in the BJP or the RSS. “It is now a thing of the past.”

In his address, Vajpayee said despite coming from Rajasthan which was rooted in strong aristocratic moorings, Shkehawat played a major role in reducing the incomes of rajas and maharajas and bringing them on par with others.

He also praised him for spearheading the struggle against the jagir (landowning) system and noted that while many in the erstwhile Jan Sangh deserted the party when it took up the issue, Shekhawat stood his ground.

Vajpayee also praised his colleague of 50 years for initiating the food for work programme in Rajasthan when he was the chief minister.”You are also a very capable administrator and a representative of farmers and can carry everyone with you,” he said adding even if a person is standing at the end of the queue, Shekhawat would ensure he was attended to.


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