The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya comes in, but as afterthought

Shimla, July 9: The hits were calculated, but the “misses” glaring. So the Congress today utilised the closing session of its three-day brainstorming camp here to set the record straight.

One of the most “glaring” omissions was the complete lack of reference in the political position paper on the Ayodhya dispute.

The silence on the issue, in the unusually brief political document prepared by a panel of leaders under Arjun Singh and approved by party chief Sonia Gandhi, provoked a flurry of questions from several delegates, including Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha.

Later, a paragraph, spelling out the party line, was incorporated as an amendment to the paper.

To set at rest any doubt about the party’s stand, Sonia made it a point to refer to the dispute in her closing remarks. The Congress chief said her party was in favour of settling the dispute through courts. However, if an out-of-court settlement is reached, it must have complete legal sanction, she added.

Sonia also referred to the 1992 Protection of Places of Worship Act to assert that Ayodhya was the only disputed issue and that status quo, as on 15 August 1947, must be maintained at all other places of worship. She was obviously alluding to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s demands regarding the Kashi and Mathura mosques.

The second oversight was that no Dalit leader was on the dais at the vichar manthan shivir’s opening session on Monday. This, at a time when the party is making concerted attempts to counter Mayavati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and reclaim its traditional support base among Dalits.

Apparently, Chhattisgarh chief minister Ajit Jogi pointed out this oversight. Today, former Union deputy minister and Dalit leader Kumari Selja read out the Shimla Sankalp document at the closing session. Also seated on the podium were two other Dalit leaders — Mahabir Prasad and Meira Kumar.

The third and, perhaps, a deliberate miss was the party’s silence on economic reforms.

Former finance minister and the party’s “reform face” Manmohan Singh had hardly any job to do, either here or during the preparatory stage at the AICC headquarters as there was no paper outlining the Congress’ position on controversial issues. All that one heard was that “our position on economic reform issues is a settled matter” — settled at the Bangalore AICC plenary session over two years ago.

Obviously, in its enthusiasm to appeal to rural voters, including weaker sections of the society, the party had chosen to be evasive on the subject. But today, the party took care that its downplaying of reform policies did not send wrong messages.

The sankalp document recalled with “pride that it was a Congress government that had launched economic reforms in the early 1990s”.

But it did so only after detailing its commitment to the uplift of all weaker sections and transformation of rural India through various policy initiatives, many of which were explicitly mentioned in the document.

In a lighter vein, Sonia also apologised for another slip — that the media could not get close to the venue of the deliberations on the first day.

The party managers made up for that by inviting media persons to witness the closing proceedings.

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