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Pride march called off under pressure

New Delhi, July 4: The proposed Gujarat Gaurav Yatra (pride march) which was to take place July 4 has been "deferred" till an appropriate time. An announcement from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi had abandoned plans to conduct yatras in view of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's disagreement.

Sources in the PMO said that the Prime Minister had emergency consultations with his deputy LK Advani, who later on conveyed his reported displeasure to Modi and asked him to immediately call off his proposed yatra. Advani was to have flagged off Modi's yatra from the temple town of Ambaji, but after consultation with the PM he declined to attend the inaugural ceremony. This was the first major political decision by Advani after he was designated Deputy PM.

Modi was to be the charioteer of the yatras. The campaign aimed at publicising the “achievements” of the BJP government in the state and to "expose" how the opposition parties and sections of the media "defamed" Gujarat and in the aftermath of the anti-Muslim pogrom. Modi's rath was an AC cabin fitted on a Swaraj Mazda lorry having a toilet and bathroom, a bed and a chair which can be raised through a hole in the ceiling by a hydraulic lift.

The state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had sponsored the yatra and planned to cover 125 of the 182 assembly constituencies in nine phases. The yatra was to culminate in a rally in Ahmedabad on August 26.

Intelligence reports said that if the yatra was to take place, the possibility of violence could not be discounted. Security adviser to the chief minister, KPS Gill, is also understood to have warned the Union Home Ministry regarding the dangers posed by the yatra.

Former Prime Minister IK Gujral, former Supreme Court Chief Justice AH Ahmadi and Muchkund Dubey, former Foreign Secretary, met the Prime Minister Tuesday evening and urged him that the yatra be immediately banned for the sake of communal harmony. The Prime Minister responded and said that "the news is that the yatra has been deferred."

Rajendrasinh Rana, party's state unit president, said that the decision to abandon the yatra was taken in deference to the wishes of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which signified "our high regard and respect for a democratic institution like NHRC."

A leader of the BJP however described the yatra as a "legitimate political activity".

The state Congress President Amarsinh Chaudhary, welcomed the BJP's decision to cancel the rath yatra and said that it had upheld the Congress stand that the yatra in such surcharged atmosphere could again lead to violence.

Modi's yatra plans had drawn flake from across the political spectrum. Congress President Sonia Gandhi wrote to the Prime Minister expressing apprehension that communal atmosphere in the state would be surcharged and asked for a ban. Samajwadi Party, a strong regional political party in northern India, also appealed to the Prime Minister to ban the proposed yatra for it would vitiate the communal atmosphere in the country.

Jagannath rath yatra (Jagannath chariot march) scheduled from July 12, however, would not be cancelled. Describing it as a religious tradition, state BJP leaders said that there was no question that the government would in any way enforce a ban and compel the Jagannath temple trust to cancel it as this would grievously hurt the religious sentiments of the majority Hindus.

The Prime Minister also met a delegation comprising academics, human rights activists and representatives of NGOs working in Gujarat. The delegation was led by former PM Inder Kumar Gujral. The delegation comprising journalists BG Verghese and Prabhash Joshi, former Ambassador Hamid Ansari, Justice Rajinder Sachar, reformer Swami Agnivesh and former bureaucrat Harsh Mander requested the Prime Minister that the relief camps should not be closed down and that the riot victims should not be forced to go back to their homes.

The Prime Minister informed the delegation of the state government's apprehension that some of the camps were likely to get inundated during the monsoon and that the riot victims might be accordingly moved to other camps. But the riot victims feared foul play in the state government's plan for merger of some camps. They feared for their life if they were eased out of their present locations and sent to some other place. The delegation also voiced the victims' preference to stay in camps closer to their homes.

Meanwhile, activists of a fundamentalist Hindu organisation, stormed the Gujarat Legislative Assembly complex Wednesday July 3 and created an uproar. Reports said that activists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) forced their entry into the Gujarat Secretariat building with trishuls (tridents) ignoring the security staff's advice to deposit them in the cloak room.

Half-a-dozen VHP activists along with an equal number of sadhus (hermits) from Dhrangadhra in Surendranagar district -- the Assembly Constituency of the Urban Development Minister, IK Jadeja -- came to the secretariat to call on him. Two of the activists carried tridents. On being asked to deposit the tridents in the cloak room as part of the security drill being followed in the high-risk zone, they entered into an argument with the security staff claiming that tridents were part of the Hindu religious tradition and accused the security officials of "not being true Hindus." The activists forced their entry without submitting their tridents thereby creating a ruckus.
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