The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Antony makes Sangh allies

New Delhi, May 15: If A.K. Antony has Praveen Togadia plumping for him as Congress president, then he also has the Prime Minister and his deputy sanctioning projects for Kerala with a simple request.

Kerala’s Congress chief minister has struck a sympathetic chord in the Sangh parivar by refusing to ban the “trishul diksha” in Cochin last month, thus defying his party policy.

Antony — or Saint or Mr Clean as he is also called — appears to have outshone his Bengal counterpart Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in hitting it off with leaders of the BJP, the Congress’ main opponent in Delhi.

The warmth was demonstrated on Monday when he got Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, .K. Advani, to sanction four important projects after meeting them separately.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh was so impressed that he cornered Antony on the sidelines of the Inter State Council meeting for a few tips.

When The Telegraph asked him how he managed the good vibes in so short a time, Antony said: “Good Centre-state relations.”

Antony, of course, also met his party chief, Sonia Gandhi, the next night when, according to sources, he had to do some explaining about his refusal to ban trident distribution.

While the chief minister said “trishul also figured” at the meeting, he was quick to add Sonia was happy with his management of the recent Rajya Sabha nomination crisis and the Marad communal riots.

He, however, steered clear of questions on the trident controversy, saying he had explained his stand several times before.

Earlier, talking to reporters in Thiruvananthapuram, Antony had said he did not feel the need to ban trident distribution because each state acted according to the conditions prevailing there.

The hardcore secular camp in the state Congress has been critical of Antony’s alleged peddling of “soft Hindutva”.

Adding to his discomfiture was Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Togadia, who said he would like to see Antony become Congress national president.

An Antony supporter in Kerala, however, had an explanation for the chief minister’s decision.

“He (Antony) is fighting a no-holds-barred battle with the Marxists. Barring the Dalits, the Hindus, Muslims and Christians, more or less, have equal numerical strength in the state, where the BJP has not a single MLA. So his so called soft-Hindutva is, in fact, shrewd politics and the comrades are aghast,” the supporter said.

Antony, known for his unconventional ways and politics, stuck to his image when he refused to toe the line of his Congress counterparts in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.

Rajasthan’s Ashok Gehlot had banned trishul diksha and got Togadia arrested for the VHP’s bid to “disturb peace and fragile communal amity”. Delhi’s Sheila Dikshit had written to the Lieutenant Governor urging action against the Sangh outfit. Digvijay Singh had got VHP leader Acharya Dharmendra arrested for making an “inflammatory” speech.

On Monday, Antony met Vajpayee in a businesslike interface which gave way to a touch of warmth when he met Advani, who received him holding both his hands.

Recalling the deputy prime minister’s good vibes with Bhattacharjee, observers said Advani’s body language was as positive this time.

In their half-hour meeting, Advani cleared Antony’s plea to set up a coastal police to man Kerala’s 643-km coastline in view of increasing anti-national activities.

Vajpayee did one better by getting off the block a Kerala request pending for 23 years. He asked environment minister T. R. Baalu to take another look at the Forest Conservation Act so that Kerala could distribute 12,196 hectares of forest land to landless tribals. Two days later, the environment ministry agreed, in principle, to hand over the land; a ministerial team will be despatched to Kerala shortly to work out the details.

Vajpayee also agreed to inaugurate in September the Vallarpadam marine project, which Antony described as the “25-year-old dream of Kerala”.

Moreover, the Prime Minister agreed, in principle, to hand over to the state at a nominal price the Aralam farm –- half of which (about 3,500 acres) would be distributed among landless tribals.

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