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January 28, 2002
2100 IST

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BJP defends MPs attending VHP rally

Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi

Reporters relentlessly grilled Bharatiya Janata Party spokesman Sunil Shastri on Monday for his attempt to protect party Members of Parliament who had lashed out against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Sunday's Vishwa Hindu Parishad rally on the Ayodhya dispute.

Agitated reporters bombarded Shastri with questions to explain why he sought to defend party MPs who had used uncharitable language against Vajpayee during the VHP rally

Leaders participating in the rally had criticised the government for not helping the party and the sants in the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

Shastri, when buttonholed on why he was not condemning the BJP MPs, sought to wriggle out saying, "they (the party MPs) are fee to join any rally they are invited."

When told that BJP MPs repeated their tirade against the prime minister on a progamme in Star TV, Shastri said "The electronic media is free to telecast its programmes."

But the dissatisfied reporters not willing to let the BJP spokesman off the hook asked him what his party's stand on the VHP's demand for the construction of the temple in Ayodhya was.

"Ram temple construction (in Ayodhya) is an emotional issue, but it is not on the agenda of the National Democratic Alliance. We will abide by the court verdict on the dispute if negotiations and dialogue fail to resolve it," he maintained.

Asked what role his party envisaged in the mandir-masjid dispute, Shastri said, "BJP has always acted as a facilitator for expediting the solution of the dispute."

While emphasising that his party was confident of remaining in power in Uttar Pradesh, he said, "The BJP government would continue its efforts to resolve the Ayodhya dispute."

Asked why the prime minister had referred the issue of the allotment of the 67 acres of land to the law minister, he said it indicated the government's anxiety to find a solution to the dispute.

"The VHP is a separate organisation and so we cannot comment on its actions," he said.

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