ATAL RUSHES TO CALM SEETHING SENA 

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By FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
  • Published 24.11.00
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New Delhi, Nov. 24 :    New Delhi, Nov. 24:  Taking the initiative to soothe ruffled feathers, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today assured the Shiv Sena that he had not intended to "snub" the party by quashing its demand for withdrawal of the Ramzan ceasefire in Kashmir. Vajpayee also spoke up on behalf of foreign minister Jaswant Singh, insisting he had not meant to hurt anybody's sentiment either. Jaswant had added sting to Vajpayee's Rajya Sabha speech by saying that even "barking mongrels" would not be able to halt the "caravan of peace". The Prime Minister's twin assurances came after the Sena today took its withdraw-ceasefire battle to the streets, burning Vajpayee's effigy near Parliament and raising anti-government slogans. Soon after, a five-member Sena team, led by heavy industries minister Manohar Joshi, was summoned to the Prime Minister's residence. Top government sources said Vajpayee assured the delegation in a 20-minute session that newspapers had "misinterpreted" his impromptu speech and given wrong headlines suggesting he had snubbed the party. He is believed to have said that his speech was "not meant against the Shiv Sena as a party but against sections and groups who misunderstood his Kashmir policy". Jaswant also went out of his way to calm frayed tempers, saying during a Rajya Sabha debate on nationalism that "we are all together". Reiterating that Vajpayee's speech had not been a broadside against the Sena, Jaswant urged that too much should not be read into it. Top sources said Jaswant had been specifically asked by the Prime Minister to issue the clarification. Jaswant is also expected to clear the air on his own speech. He had said in the Rajya Sabha yesterday that the "caravan of peace carrying the message of humanity and peace will roll on and nobody can stop its onward march. Even the barking mongrels in villages will not be able to halt it". Government sources claimed that after today's meeting with Vajpayee, a "satisfied" Sena vowed to continue support to the government and distanced itself from the violence. The MPs are believed to have said that the effigy-burning was an independent endeavour of the Delhi unit. The meeting apparently had a salutary effect on Sena boss Bal Thackeray as well. There was no hard-hitting editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna, leave alone criticism of Vajpayee's speech. Only agency reports on the address were carried without comment or criticism. But Sena sources stressed they conveyed their viewpoint "forcefully" to the Prime Minister. Joshi is reported to have told him that he was "mistaken" if he thought Hindus were happy with his ceasefire initiative. Joshi also questioned that if the government could enforce a ceasefire during Ramzan for the "benefit" of Muslims, why had a similar step not been taken to "protect" Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir during Diwali.