New Delhi, March 20: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will not be at the Gaddafi tomorrow, but foster son-in-law Ranjan Bhattacharya and trusted aide Brajesh Mishra will put in an appearance at the India-Pakistan thriller at Lahore.
Since Vajpayee stepped in to ensure the cricket series was not called off, Delhi had been abuzz with speculation that he would travel to Lahore. Although the PMO denied any such plan, deputy .K. Advani was quoted as saying a visit would be “another step in improving ties”.
There was a buzz across the border, too, especially after the Pakistan Cricket Board decided to fence off three public enclosures at the stadium for VIPs.
Pakistan Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali played down the possibility of Vajpayee returning to the city he had last visited on the peace bus, but an official requesting anonymity had said: “I guess an important Indian personality is coming… he may be Mr Vajpayee.”
At least 8,000 cricket-crazy Lahorites will miss the game after the enclosures were made out of bounds for them.
In Karachi, too, about 3,000 seats in the general stands were fenced off as a security measure for Indian dignitaries. Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi had turned up for the first one-dayer, as did law minister Arun Jaitley.
National security adviser Mishra’s schedule is not yet known, but he is certain to meet top Pakistani leaders and take stock of the peace process.
The decision to send the duo seems aimed at keeping the process on track and trying to ascertain whether there has been any fundamental shift in President Pervez Musharraf’s stand on the road map to normalise relations agreed to by the two leaders earlier this year in Islamabad.
Musharraf’s recent hardline stand on Kashmir and terrorism has raised serious doubts in the minds of the Indian leadership about his intentions.
Last Saturday, he made it clear no amount of confidence-building measures would help improve ties until the Kashmir dispute was resolved. He also described the militants fighting Indian forces in Kashmir as freedom fighters.
Though taken aback by the comments, Delhi maintained a stoic public front, claiming the peace process was on track and it remained committed to Vajpayee’s peace initiative. But in private, leaders worried whether the remarks meant a shift on the agreed position or were an off-the-cuff comment.
By making peace with Pakistan an election issue, the BJP leaders have no choice but to keep their worries to themselves.