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Vajpayee’s Ayodhya baloon may backfire
By P.M. Damodaran, Lucknow

The Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, has made a number of contradictory and incongruous statements on Ayodhya issue during the past nine months. His recent observations made at a press conference in Lucknow, which were later ratified by him in Parliament, were among the latest in the series.

Mr. Vajpayee at his press conference had said that the talks of different nature were going on at various levels and he was confident of reaching a solution to the Ayodhya dispute before March next year, the time set by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to start the construction of Ram Temple there. But he did not elaborate. The Prime Minister repeated his statement in Parliament where again he refused to divulge the details when the opposition leaders cornered him on the subject.

Mr. Vajpayee’s remarks had surprised the political circles, as there had been no evidence of any behind the scene negotiations in the recent months to resolve the dispute. Both the VHP and the leaders of the Muslim organizations, the main players in the dispute, have feigned ignorance of any behind the scene negotiations.

Moreover, a negotiated settlement now seems a remote possibility because the VHP has taken a belligerent stand on the dispute. It had announced its plans to construct the Temple at the disputed site from March next year, come what may. The VHP had asserted that it would go ahead with its plan irrespective of the results of a court verdict or a negotiated settlement in the dispute.

The VHP is going ahead with its 65-day Ram Jap programme from November in two lakh villages in the country to activate its cadres. Around two crore people are expected to participate in the programme. This will be followed by the ‘chetna march’ by the sants in January next year from Ayodhya to New Delhi where they will submit their charter of demands to the Prime Minister. On the other hand, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a confederation of all Muslim organizations, is meeting in Delhi in early September to take stock of the situation. Moreover, the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) has made it known that the minority community was not ready to give even an inch of land for the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya under threat.

The Ayodhya dispute has defied a solution through talks during the past more than a decade and so there was little conviction in the statement of Mr. Vajpayee that he was confident of arriving at a solution to the dispute within a short period of next six months. In fact the two former Prime Ministers, Mr. Chandra Shekhar and Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao, had initiated serious negotiations with the leaders of both the communities but the talks led to no where.

Interestingly, the BJP government had so far kept away from holding any talks with the leaders of the contending parties. A few months ago, the BJP MP from Faizabad, of which Ayodhya is a part, Mr. Vinay Katiyar, had half-heartedly attempted to talk to some Muslim leaders to resolve the dispute. But the talks could not succeed because the firebrand Bajrang Dal leader could not bring the prominent leaders of the minority community to the negotiating table. Moreover, what Mr. Katiyar wanted from the Muslim leaders was merely a ratification of the temple construction plan and not a discussion on the real issues pertaining to the dispute.

Mr. Vajpayee’s statement is being interpreted as his attempt to dissuade the VHP from launching its programmes assuring it that a solution to the dispute will be arrived at before March 12. But there is no surety that the Prime Minister will succeed in his efforts. Moreover, an unimplemented promise may backfire. The VHP leaders are already asserting that there is no option left for the government but to hand over the disputed land to the organization to start the construction of the temple.

Mr. Vajpayee’s reference of March next year as the deadline for solving the dispute through talks is important for the simple reason that the Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh at that time. The polls are important for the Prime Minister as well as for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party because the results may have its impact on the stability of his government at the centre. Mr. Vajpayee himself has admitted that the BJP has high stakes in the U.P. polls. The failure of the BJP to come back to power in U.P. may set forth a political polarization at the national level destabilizing the government at the centre.

Mr. Vajpayee had been keeping away from making any statement on the Ayodhya issue since he became the prime minister more than three years ago. But at a function on December 6 last year, he had described the Ayodhya movement as “an expression of national sentiments”. When the opposition parties and even some allies of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) severely criticized Mr. Vajpayee’s remarks, he announced in Parliament that his government would honour a judicial verdict or an amicable settlement reached between the two communities in the case.

The Prime Minister then made the most controversial statement on the dispute in his Kumarakom Musings when he remarked that “irrespective of what the judicial verdict might be, its smooth implementation would require conducive social atmosphere”. What he apparently meant was that if the court verdict went against the construction of the Ram Temple, it would be difficult to implement. If the verdict went against the Babri mosque, it was not difficult to implement as the minority community had announced its readiness to accept any verdict given by the court. On the other hand, the VHP had threatened to go ahead with its plan to construct the temple even if the court verdict went against it. In his Musings, Mr. Vajpayee had described the demolition of the disputed structure as a “flagrant violation of the law, it certainly was. But it was also totally at variance with the Hindu ethos”! This again attracted criticism from various quarters.

The judicial verdict is the best, in fact, the only option left to resolve the dispute. But a verdict in the Ayodhya cases is unlikely to be pronounced in the near future. The cases are complicated and pending in the courts, particularly the one relating to the title of the land, for the past several decades.
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