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BJP had decided no one should quit
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | September 19, 2003 23:16 IST
Last Updated: September 20, 2003 01:57 IST
L K Advani, the man credited with seeing an opportunity in the Ayodhya dispute and seizing it to take the Bharatiya Janata Party to where it is today, is a relieved man.
"Eleven years ago,"†Advani said on Friday evening,†"I was arrested on the charge that I was part of the conspiracy to demolish the structure that stood where Ram was born. After 11 years, the court has acquitted†me of all the charges."
Though Advani appeared rejuvenated, he was not elated, probably because charges are going to be framed against his colleagues like Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Madhya Pradesh BJP president Uma Bharti, and Vinay Katiyar, her counterpart in Uttar Pradesh.
Around†1515 IST, when news of the judgment arrived, Advani was sitting with BJP General Secretary Pramod Mahajan and Union Minister of State for Home Harin Pathak. "He didn't say a word on hearing the order," Pathak later told rediff.com "He looked happy and relaxed, but didn't express his feelings."
Fifteen minutes later, Advani's personal secretary Deepak Chopra told journalists waiting outside the deputy prime minister's home†that he would not be speaking to them. Clearly, Advani was reluctant to celebrate the acquittal.
At 1545 IST,†Mahajan got an SMS from a colleague in Mumbai asking whether crackers and sweets should be ordered at the BJP's state head†office. No, was the curt reply.
Earlier in the day, at 0930 IST, BJP president M Venkaiah Naidu and Mahajan had called on Advani to debate the issues that would arise from the court's order.
Three decisions were taken at this meeting.
If all eight leaders of the BJP and Vishwa Hindu Parishad were acquitted, there would be celebrations all over the country.
If charges were framed against all, guarded reactions would be issued to the press.
Third, none of those indicted would resign. According to a senior BJP politician, "even if charges had been framed against Advaniji, he would not have resigned."
Mahajan told journalists bluntly, "Our party does not believe in resigning before or after court cases. Even when Congress leaders are facing such a situation we don't ask for their resignation."
It is a different matter that Joshi has sent his resignation letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
When other BJP†leaders started arriving to congratulate Advani, some television journalists requested Mahajan to somehow get Advani to issue a statement. Advani agreed, but said he would take no†questions.
The deputy prime minister met the assembled journalists in a newly built hall in his home and said†candidly, "You persuaded Mahajan and he persuaded me to speak to you."
Advani said he would normally not have had any hesitation in talking to journalists, "but the exact nature of the development gives me a mixed feeling."
Nevertheless, he did not hold back as he faced a dozen television cameras. He took on the "pseudo-secularists" and again stressed the importance of the Ayodhya movement and how it had helped take the BJP to new heights.
"There was a systematic campaign to malign the Ayodhya movement as a communal movement," Advani said. "[But]Ayodhya got support from the people."
By way of reassurance, he added, "India is a secular state and regards all sections as equal."
Without naming the Congress, he criticised its vote bank politics.
Referring to Judge V K Singh's order, on which he knew his party cadres would be looking to him for guidance, Advani said, "Today I have nothing before me on the basis of which I can comment why this distinction has been made between me and my colleagues."
A case of†criminal conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid was filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 1993 against Advani, Joshi, Bharti, Katiyar and VHP leaders Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Sadhvi Ritambhara and Vishnu Hari Dalmia.
When Advani and Joshi became ministers at the Centre in the short-lived BJP government in May 1996, and again in the first National Democratic Alliance government in 1998, this serious charge continued to stand against both. The charge was eventually dropped by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court early this year.
Advani defended his colleagues. "On December 6, 1992, where that structure existed, nobody gave any speeches," he claimed. "If the microphone was used, it was used to tell people that breaking the structure is wrong and†should not be done. People were reminded that the gathering was a cultural event. One of our senior leaders spoke in four or five languages and appealed to the people to stop it."
For the last†decade, Advani has always been an uncomfortable leader, thanks to†the charge sheet against him. Even when the NDA came to power, his long-time colleague Vajpayee had†the halo of a secular leader, but Advani had to bear the ignominy of facing a serious criminal charge.
A very image-conscious leader, Advani took great pains to present his case before the Justice M S Liberhan Commission, which is inquiring into the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. His statement explaining his role on December 6, 1992, runs into more than a hundred†pages.
Judge Singh's order has, therefore, come as a great relief and a personal victory.
Advani, a shrewd tactician, said†even if the other leaders are eventually indicted on October 10, it would cause no harm to his party. An BJP official†said Advani's acquittal would make it easier for the†other leaders.
Asked about the impact an indictment would have on Uma Bharti's ambition to become chief minister of Madhya Pradesh in the assembly election that is scheduled†this winter,†a party spokesman joked: "Umaji kehti hain mujhe saza dilao, main jitkar aa jaoon [Get me convicted, so I'll get elected]."
Before ending his brief speech, Advani gave a clear indication of his mood and his party's agenda. "If a spectacular temple can be built at the birthplace of Ram," he said,†"it will bring about political unity and mutual goodwill amongst the people of India." His colleagues hinted that the Muslims would now be persuaded more vigorously to agree to building the temple.
Mahajan, however, refused to comment when asked if one more roadblock had been removed from Advani's path to the office of†prime minister.
The Ayodhya Issue: The Complete Coverage