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Vajpayee government wins Gujarat vote, but loses face

The censure motion in the lower house of Parliament was defeated after a marathon 16-hour discussion which started at 12 p.m. Tuesday, 30 April and ended 4.30 am next day. 276 members voted against the censure motion

A badly bruised BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government won the Gujarat vote on numbers, but a walkout by 28-member key ally Telugu Desam Party before voting, a key minister's resignation and the offer to quit by another minister soured the victory.

The censure motion in the lower house of Parliament was defeated after a marathon 16-hour discussion which started at 12 p.m. Tuesday, 30 April and ended 4.30 am next day. 276 members voted against the censure motion while 182 voted for it. There were eight abstentions, including four (Kashmir) National Conference members led by Minister of State for External Affairs Omar Abdullah, who has tendered his resignation for not voting with the government. 

Central minister for coal and mines, Ram Vilas Paswan, had already resigned over the government's mishandling of Gujarat which has already claimed 905 lives according to the official count. Human rights organisations say at least 2,000 have died. About quarter of a million remain in refugee camps, unable to go back to their homes, amid official attempts to close down the camps by force in order to show that 'normalcy' has returned. People are still streaming into the camps from various areas as the violence continues.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to assuage the agitated opposition by announcing a rupees 1500 million (US$ 30.6 million) package for Gujarat to help the state government undertake reconstruction and rehabilitation work. The implementation, to be done within four months, would be monitored by the cabinet secretary, he said. In his speech in the Parliament the Prime Minister said Hindu fundamentalism also posed a challenge, adding he never supported proponents of hardline Hindutva. Vajpayee conceded that he failed to anticipate the violence.

The rehabilitation package would include assistance for reconstruction and repair of damaged houses and shops, both in rural and urban areas and to self-employed categories who lost their earning assets and financial support for recommencing business, commercial and industrial activities. It would also include revival of educational, medical and other institutions in the affected areas and special programmes to benefit widows and children, the Prime Minister said. 

Vajpayee said the riots might not have happened had the political parties of the country stood united and condemned the attack on the Sabarmati Express, which triggered the communal violence in the state. Echoing his party's stand he placed much of the blame for Gujarat riots on the media, saying it did not show sensitivity.

Central Home Minister LK Advani asserted that the removal of his protégé, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, would not resolve the issue.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi made a sharp attack on the Prime Minister when she said" "his shifting statements have shocked us." Referring to Vajpayee's lecture to Modi on "rajdharma" (statecraft) on April 4 and his speech at a public rally in Goa when he said that Muslims did not know how to live in peace, she said, "Such doublespeak — what does it say to the nation?"

The PM, Sonia Gandhi recalled, had said that if Parliament had condemned the Godhra carnage the subsequent violence in Gujarat would not have followed. "What stopped him, as Leader of the House and the Prime Minister, from taking the initiative? The Prime Minister’s failure cannot be portrayed as Parliament’s dereliction." She accused the chief minister of Gujarat of being partisan and said that large-scale transfer of police officials in the state was clear evidence of the administration’s bias. She reminded the house that Gujarat still continues to burn and bleed two months after the riots broke out. 

Initiating the debate, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, said he did not understand how the government could take umbrage at western criticism of the Gujarat violence. "Don’t you raise the issue of Hindus in Fiji or Bangladesh? It is no longer an internal matter, when you have shamed India in front of the world by your Hitler-like behaviour." 

Defence Minister George Fernandes ruffled many a feather when he callously claimed that "Stories are being told about Gujarat violence as if it was happening for the first time. Did it not happen in 1984 on the roads of Delhi?" 

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar accused the state government of inciting the Gujarat violence and the centre of not deploying the army to contain the violence in time. "Why is it that where the deployment of the army has restored normalcy in a matter of few hours in previous years...in all those 54 years that Mr George Fernandes was talking about ...We have seen this disaster continuing. The reason is that on the 27 of February it became completely clear that the local non-secular forces in collaboration with the government were determined to promote a pogrom," Mani Shankar Aiyar said.

The pyrrhic victory came as violence continues unabated in Gujarat. In the current, third phase of violence, Muslim commercial establishments and large Muslim localities are being targetted. Mobs are roaming around in thousands while police protects them or watches in helplessness. Mobs are even today controlling major highways where passengers are searched and if a Muslim is found he is dragged from his car or bus and lynched.
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