The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP’s reform rath on move
- Advani praises RSS, doesn’t budge

Bhopal/New Delhi, July 1: The controversy over Lal Krishna Advani’s comments on Jinnah was brought back to life today by the BJP chief himself while an aide wrote a letter asking him to review the party’s relations with the Sangh.

A day before the Sangh meets in Surat where his statement on Jinnah is expected to dominate discussions, Advani made conciliatory noises but did not step back from what he had said in Pakistan.

“I am proud of being a Hindutva leader. The rath yatra was not only for construction of the Ram temple but also for spreading the correct meaning of secularism among people,” Advani said.

On his recent trip to Pakistan, Advani had said Jinnah had a secular vision of Pakistan, a comment that had raised hackles back home, particularly within the Sangh, prompting his resignation that was later recalled.

Appearing to smooth ruffled Sangh feathers, Advani said: “The Jan Sangh and the RSS have played a significant role in restoration of democracy in India (reference to Emergency).”

Advani also hinted at a movement for a uniform civil code in the context of the controversy over the fatwa on Imrana who was raped by her father-in-law and has been separated from her husband on the order of ulemas.

“What has happened to Imrana is not right. The ulemas should think of punishing the rapist, instead of punishing Imrana. There are many Islamic countries which have changed the law with time. Indian ulemas should think on similar lines,” Advani said.

These statements, however, were accompanied by views that suggested Advani was continuing what some observers consider a fight to take the BJP away from intolerant Hindutva.

He said the Muslim community’s reluctance to accept the ulemas’ decree on Imrana and Pakistan’s belated attempt to accord religious freedom to minorities signified change.

Advani sees Islamabad’s decision to restore the Katas Raj temples, an exercise he flagged off, as a signal of its intention to move towards what he has described as Jinnah’s original vision of Pakistan where all religions were to be treated equal.

“The beginning of this process has been delayed in Pakistan but the start itself is a positive indication. It’s good if India continues to enjoy cordial relations with Bangladesh and Pakistan,” he said.

His secretary, Sudheendra Kulkarni, who is believed to have drafted the tribute Advani wrote at Jinnah’s mausoleum, took the apparent struggle to reform the BJP to a strident level that shook the party.

Amid calls for his dismissal within the BJP, Kulkarni wrote to Advani: “(The party must) distance itself completely from extremist elements in the VHP, who have derailed the Hindu movement, brought a bad name to the BJP and weakened the larger nationalist cause.”

The letter that was leaked to the media, Kulkarni said he had not done it, said the BJP must make “concerted and principled efforts to reach out to Indian Muslims” at the risk of “displeasing our ‘core voters’”. “In any case, isn’t it our duty to change the mindset of our ‘core voters’'” he asked, urging Advani to “employ this approach” in the coming Bihar elections.

Today’s developments are an indication that the battle within the BJP, triggered during Advani’s Pakistan trip, has not died with the end to his resignation drama.

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