The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PMs past & present in riot plainspeak

New Delhi, June 12: On a visit to Gurdwara Bangla Sahib here today, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the 1984 anti-Sikh violence and the 2002 Gujarat riots as “painful” and said such incidents must not recur.

Six hundred km away in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee voiced the same sentiment but conceded for the first time that the impact of the Gujarat “violence” told on the BJP’s poll prospects.

After paying obeisance at the shrine, Singh told the devotees in Punjabi: “I understand the pain and anguish of Sikhs. Painful incidents like this and (the) Gujarat riots should never happen again.”

“An atmosphere should be created wherein such incidents do not take place again,” he said, urging people to usher in a “new dawn of prosperity” by maintaining peace and harmony.

The new government had drawn flak from the Akalis for making Jagdish Tytler, who has been accused of playing a role in the 1984 riots, a minister.

On the way to Manali for his annual vacation, Vajpayee referred to the violence in Gujarat. “It is difficult to say what are all the reasons for the defeat in the elections. But one impact of the violence was we lost the elections,” he told reporters.

The former Prime Minister expressed the hope that Gujarat would not be repeated. “I am confident that the people of the country have decided such bloodbath will not be allowed to take place anywhere in future.” It is necessary to take steps to prevent a recurrence, he said.

If Vajpayee’s admission followed the queries of reporters, Singh was reacting to the comment of Prahlad Singh Chandok, chairman of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee.

“What happened in the 1984 riots was very bad. After such incidents, the minorities have been living in fear. They need a healing touch because these were painful events that should not happen again,” Chandok said, asking the Centre to consider a healing package for Sikhs.

Vajpayee’s admission marked a turnaround from his statement on June 1 at a meeting of the BJP parliamentary party when he cited “overconfidence and complacency” as the reasons for the poor electoral showing. His exclusion of Gujarat had come as a reprieve for chief minister Narendra Modi, who was under attack from his own MLAs for not delivering the expected number of seats in the general elections.

Some BJP legislators had revolted against Modi and called for a change at the helm but gave up their demand after the leadership intervened. It appeared as though Vajpayee’s address at the meeting was the trigger for salvaging Modi’s position.

Today, asked if he thought the BJP had not handled the Gujarat issue appropriately, Vajpayee avoided a straight answer. “That was not wrong. It was an incident which could have further aggravated emotions.”

He said the Opposition “exploited” people's sentiments and “tried to reap political benefits from it. But I don’t blame them (Opposition). This is politics and such things happen here”.

Asked for his reaction to Vajpayee’s statement, BJP spokesman Yashwant Sinha said: “I have neither seen nor heard it, so I will not comment.”

Sources were wary of reacting even off-the-record. The farthest they would go was to say: “The matter will be gone into at the chintan baithak (introspection sitting of BJP ideologues and strategists) we plan to have after our national executive.”

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