| Advani looks on as his wife Kamla receives a bouquet from a girl at a temple in Chakwal. (AFP)
Katas Raj (Pakistan), June 2: When L.K. Advani tours Pakistan, it should be no surprise if temple building and mosque reconstruction get on the agenda.
The BJP president today flagged off a project to restore seven 2,300-year-old temples, associated with the Mahabharata, in a region of Pakistan that used to be known as “Kafir Kot (abode of non-believers)”.
At once the question popped up: Will President Pervez Musharraf be now allowed to inaugurate the rebuilding of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya'
Advani, who had described the Ayodhya demolition as the “saddest day of my life” immediately on arrival in Pakistan, steered clear of rhetoric. The restoration project in Katas Raj, 200 km from Islamabad, is merely an “important step” in a region known for its Jain and Buddhist temples, he said.
Others were not so shy. Moshahid Hussain, a senator from the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam) and former information and broadcasting minister, stressed that this was a “landmark” event. For the first time since 1947, a Hindu temple in Pakistan was being “restored and refurbished” by the leader of the Opposition from India, who is also the BJP president.
Still, as Advani stood on a hillock and unveiled the plaque for the Rs 2-crore project ' in which the Archaeological Survey of India is expected to collaborate ' the irony was not lost on the Pakistani politicians and journalists who accompanied him.
When a reporter asked Moshahid if today’s event would make it possible for the Pakistan President to lay the foundation stone for a mosque in India, he replied: “Why not' This should be the next step. Such moves show we have become large-hearted, mature and civilised in our interactions.”
Again, asked if the Pakistan President should “inaugurate” the reconstruction of the Ram temple, his answer was: “We are interested in the other side of the temple and that is the Babri mosque. It is at the back of people’s minds. Courtesy has made it difficult for us to raise the issue but it has been raised by the press.”
Moshahid saw Advani’s statement of regret over the demolition as a “positive comment”.
The president of his party and former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussein suggested that as a confidence-building measure, today’s event would go farther than any of those laid on the table to “normalise” Indo-Pak relations.
It was high on symbolism, strong on substance and had the right blend of shared history and future hope. Most important, it had the blessings of the powerful Punjabi lobby of Islamabad’s political establishment.
Advani said Islamabad had also given the green light to the renovation of the Sadhu Bela temple in Sindh, his place of origin.
Later, at a South Asian Free Media Association (Safma) function in Lahore, the BJP president thanked Shujaat Hussein, saying it was a “debt which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay”.
Advani also beamed a conciliatory signal back home to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The BJP chief, whose party had appeared to have closed all doors on Singh during a bitter boycott of Parliament, mentioned in a speech in Lahore that he had been greeted by a classmate of the Prime Minister at a reception in a Katas Raj village.
Raja Mohammed Ali of Gah in Chakwal district had studied with Singh in primary school. “After witnessing and experiencing all this,” Advani said, “I have to say that ‘fiza zaroor badli hai (the atmosphere has indeed changed)’.”