Saturday, Nov 16, 2002
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By Harish Khare
Without naming the VHP, Mr. Vajpayee made it clear that the organisation had no choice but to respect the EC decision. "I appeal to all organisations to honour this directive issued by a constitutional authority and help the State administration in discharging its duty,'' he said.
Mr. Vajpayee's intervention came in the form of a brief interview to the Hindi television channel, Aaj Tak. The exercise is being described as a "carefully crafted signal" to the VHP and its sympathisers within the BJP. Within minutes of the interview, the Press Information Bureau also released a statement paraphrasing the Prime Minister's formulations. Mr. Vajpayee has virtually distanced himself from the Narendra Modi/Pravin Togadia strategy of over-aggressive Hindutva.
The sum and substance of the Prime Minister's observations was that "Godhra'' and the post-Godhra violence need not be invoked as election themes. "If it is done, it will look like there is no other issue and votes are being played with like a toy,'' said Mr. Vajpayee when asked about the propriety of the (VHP/BJP) campaign for communal polarisation.
Mr. Vajpayee's remarks are a message to the VHP leadership that it could not conduct itself as being above the law. "It is only through scrupulous obedience of the law that we can enhance the prestige and efficacy of our democracy,'' he said. Only a few weeks ago, the VHP brass was gunning for the Prime Minister and his principal aide. Today, Mr. Vajpayee has returned the "compliment."
Not only the VHP, even the Gujarat BJP leadership came in for indirect criticism. In an obvious indictment of the caretaker Chief Minister, Narendra Modi's highly emotional invocation of the "Godhra'' massacre, Mr. Vajpayee noted: "I urge all political parties and organisations to focus their election campaign on issues of development and governance, and not on matters that vitiate the atmosphere.''
Mr. Vajpayee had indirect words of disapproval for the BJP's central media managers who have sought to criticise the Election Commission for curbing the majority community's freedom of expression.
The Prime Minister saw the issue differently: "With elections less than a month away, it is natural for political and social organisations to want to go among the people and conduct their campaigns. It is their democratic right. However, it is also the democratic duty of one and all to exercise it in a lawful way. Even protest has to be expressed in a peaceful manner without inflaming passions.''
The Prime Minister's forthright statement is also as an encouragement to the bureaucracy civil and police in Gujarat to provide level-playing field conditions to all the political parties. It is believed that Mr. Vajpayee's intention is to signal to the State's top bureaucratic leadership the Chief Secretary, the Additional Chief Secretary (Home) and the Director-General of Police that the Commission's writ must be respected.
In other words, the bureaucracy should not allow itself to be intimidated by the caretaker Chief Minister.
It is learnt that Mr. Vajpayee has yet to decide on whether to campaign in Gujarat.
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