The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Which hat to wear: BJP baffled
- Advani’s attempted change of course places obstacle on Ayodhya road

New Delhi, July 5: The BJP sniffed a distant prospect of revival in the Hindi heartland in today’s Ayodhya attack. But the early elation in the BJP headquarters was diluted by the realisation that so long as president L.K. Advani was caught in an “image trap”, it would not be known how far the party could go on Ayodhya.

Sources said it was still unclear if Advani would continue his “repackaging” of himself as a secular-liberal politician or revert to the “back-to-basics” line under pressure from the Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

The ambiguity was reflected in the BJP’s indecision on whether Advani, who once rode the Ram rath across the country and put Ayodhya on the political map, should revisit his original “karma bhoomi”.

In the afternoon, a senior functionary said Advani and vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, who endeared himself with the BJP by leading groups of Muslims to “fight” for Ram’s “birthplace” in the nineties, would reach the hotspot by tomorrow afternoon.

Kalyan Singh, the other player in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri mosque saga, who was out in the cold after he returned to the BJP, had already landed in the temple town reportedly to create the right ambience for Advani’s visit.

But by late evening, sources close to the BJP chief said he would not travel tomorrow.

The sources said in the revised strategy, the BJP would test the waters in the pilgrim town by despatching Kalyan and Rajnath Singh. Other players from the mandir movement ' Vinay Katiyar, Swami Chinmayanand and Ram Vilas Vedanti ' had already reached.

Murli Manohar Joshi is expected to go tomorrow while VHP chief Ashok Singhal left the concluding session of the Sangh’s Surat conclave and headed to Ayodhya.

Narendra Modi, who has replaced Kalyan as “Hindu hriday ka samrat” (monarch of the Hindu heart) announced an ex gratia payment of Rs 10 lakh each to the security personnel injured in the encounter.

The BJP and VHP issued separate protest calls which took the shape of a “bandh” that will be enforced in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand and the “forcible” closure of business establishments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Sources said the response would be assessed before deciding whether it was “worthwhile” for Advani to engage himself in the “revive Ayodhya” enterprise. It will mean another about-turn for the BJP president so soon after his first, during a visit to Pakistan where he gave the impression of trying to reach out to the minority population.

Such a dramatic change back to the Advani of rathyatra vintage after appearing to be prepared to take on hardline elements in the Sangh parivar to push his way through seems difficult.

The sources said Advani’s declaration that December 6 (the day the Babri mosque was demolished) was the “saddest day of my life” on his Pakistan trip was an albatross around the BJP’s neck because “it gives the impression he wants to distance himself from the movement on which his political career was built”.

The RSS had taken note of an interview he gave to a Pakistan TV channel in which he referred to the structure as the “Babri mosque”, which no BJP leader had ever done.

As the BJP was doing a cost-benefit analysis, the sources said the immediate fallout was a reunification in the warring parivar after months. “For the first time, the RSS, BJP and VHP are speaking in one voice and that is good for the party,” said a functionary.

No one, however, would wager a bet on what it could do to Advani’s career: give him a leg-up or consign him to the margin.

More important, perhaps, is the test the Ayodhya incident has posed before the party and Advani ' whether it will be a turn to the past or look to the future.

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