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Marathon debate on Gujarat in Upper House of Parliament, BJP changes tack

The Opposition-sponsored censure motion against the government in the Rajya Sabha, was unanimously passed on 6 May after a marathon debate that continued for three days. Unlike its defiant stand in the Lok Sabha, the ruling BJP totally changed its stand in the Upper House where it is in a minority and was certain to lose the censure motion. Therefore, it surprised all by claiming that it too supported the motion and will vote for it! BJP hoped that this will ensure that there will be no voting at the end and the matter will be settled with a 'unanimous' resolution condemning the violence in Gujarat.

Intervening in the debate on the last day Prime Minister AB Vajpayee said the government will support it and ensure that it is passed unanimously. Prime Minister also chose this occasion to deny that he had criticized Islam or attacked Muslims in his speech at Goa. ‘I can’t even think of casting aspersions on any religion’, he said. He added that in Goa he had expressed concern over the rise of fundamentalism in various countries including India and that he was being attacked for a reference to militant Islam.

The resolution expressed the Upper House’s deep sense of anguish at the persistence of violence in Gujarat for over six weeks leading to loss of lives of a large number of persons, destruction of property worth billions of rupees, and urges the central government to intervene effectively under Article 355 of the Constitution to protect the lives and properties of the citizens and to provide effective relief and rehabilitation to the victims of violence". 

Earlier disagreeing with the government’s sudden appeal for unanimity, the entire Opposition has sought a CBI inquiry into the incidents of violence, including Godhra, and also a commission of inquiry by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court as recommended by the National Human Rights Commission.

Congress leader Arjun Singh moved the motion, pointing out that the Constitution has become irrelevant as those who have taken oaths to protect it have failed to do so. Going into the ideological background of communal hatred, Arjun Singh quoted RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar’s praise for the Nazis. 

From the government side, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said: "The government shares the sentiments in totality. There is no difference with the phraseology of the motion. We are all naked in the bathroom, so there is no point in the slinging of charges."

However, this sudden change of tactics did not save the government from scathing attacks by opposition members of the Upper House of Parliament. The most stinging attack came from RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav who described the ruling BJP as the Bharat Jalao (Burn India) Party. He accused the Hindu extremist organisations, RSS and the VHP, of having brought the country to the brink of yet another partition. He demanded the arrest of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Quoting from a memorandum he submitted to the President of India, he said he suspects the hands of the Sangh Parivar in the Godhra incident. Lashing out at Home Minister LK Advani, he asked: "I want to know what enmity he has with Muslims?"

Gujarat violence has clearly left the BJP’s credibility in tatters. The exit of Lok Janshakti from the ruling alliance and discontent among others, the abstentions by two members of Parliament of another allied party, Janata Dal-United and the walkout from Parliament by the members of the second largest party in the alliance, TDP, point to a weakened alliance on its way to collapse. The Congress Party has redoubled its activities in recent weeks in anticipation of any change.

Shaken BJP leaders are now admitting that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi has become a "political liability". According to sources in Delhi a decision has already been taken to drop him at an opportune time in future but without appearing to be doing so under pressure.
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