Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
It was Union Civil Aviation Minister Shahnawaz Hussain who persuaded Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to summon Hindu and Muslim leaders in a bid to resolve the Ayodhya dispute, a senior home ministry official said on Friday.
But no breakthrough could be achieved because of their rigid stance, he said.
"Hussain told the prime minister that he could bring Muslim leaders to the negotiating table, and the latter agreed as it could enhance the image of his government," the official told rediff.com
The decision to invite the Muslim leaders for talks was also taken with an eye on the assembly poll in Uttar Pradesh, he admitted.
He said Hussain, often projected as the "Muslim face" of the BJP, prevailed upon Vajpayee to prove his proximity to some leading members of the minority community.
Accordingly, Hussain began his foray in UP in October last year and sounded out, among others, Zafaryar Jilani, a leading protagonist of rebuilding the Babri mosque.
Hussain received a positive response from Jilani, who was hopeful of obtaining some concession from the Vajpayee government, the official said.
However, Hussain's overtures to other Muslims leaders in UP were rebuffed, especially when others like Syed Shahabuddin (Babri Masjid Action Coordination Committee) warned that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board was the sole authority to negotiate with the government on the Ayodhya dispute.
With the Vishwa Hindu Parishad threatening to go ahead with the construction of the temple, Vajpayee looked around for Hindu leaders who could negotiate with the Muslims.
The government persuaded former VHP vice-president S C Dixit to come to Vajpayee's Race Course Road residence on February 7 and speak to Jilani.
However, no breakthrough could be achieved because of their adamant stand.
Dixit insisted that courts were not the competent authority to decide on matters of faith and Jilani contended that status quo must be maintained at the disputed site pending a verdict from the court.
"That was how the prime minister recently announced that he tried to mediate on the Ayodhya dispute but failed," the official pointed out.
BJP general secretary Sunil Shastri, when asked about whom Vajpayee spoke to from the two communities, professed ignorance.
"Whoever they were, it is now quite evident that those talks did not succeed," he said.
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