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Advani woos Muslims, OBCs
K G Suresh in Pune | April 11, 2006 15:30 IST
After appealing to Muslims to help in the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Lal Kishenchand Advani on Tuesday sought to further reach out to them by assuring them of his "unwavering commitment" to contribute to the promotion of amity, harmony and mutual understanding between the two communities.
On the sixth day of his 6,000-km-long 'Bharat Suraksha Yatra' in Pune, he also termed as "flawed" the demand for minority status to Jains and called for a national debate on statutory reservations for Scheduled Castes and Tribes in minority educational institutions.
Greeting Muslims on the occasion of Eid Milad-un-Nabi, the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed, Advani said, "I wish to assure them about my unwavering commitment to contribute to the promotion of amity, harmony and mutual understanding between Hindus and Muslims, as an important part of strengthening India's national integration."
Advani's statement is widely being seen as part of his efforts to remove the dissonance between the BJP's "reality" of being "anti-Muslim and anti-minority". Advani still blames the party for missing a golden opportunity to remove this perception in the wake of the Jinnah controversy last year, which led to his resignation as party chief.
The remarks also assume significance as his yatra is primarily against the alleged "minority appeasement" policies of the Congress-led UPA government. However, at every public meeting, he takes pains to emphasise that such policies were harmful both for the nation and the Muslims themselves.
On the controversial IMDT Act too, the senior BJP leader emphasised that the party was not against Assamese Muslims but the illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators in the state.
Advani had commenced his 35-day long Yatra from Rajkot in Gujarat on April 6 with an appeal to the Muslims to abandon their claim over the disputed site in Ayodhya and help in the construction of a grand Ram temple there. His remarks had drawn immediate criticism from VHP firebrand leader Praveen Togadia who said the solution to the vexed issue lay in a legislation and not any negotiated settlement as suggested by the BJP leader.
Asked why the Sangh Parivar outfits were not supporting his yatra, Advani said it was a BJP programme and it was only on rare occasions that the RSS decides that its organisation should also give full support to the party's programmes.
"Moreover, the RSS chief himself through a statement has welcomed the yatra," he said.
Asserting that the BJP will stoutly oppose communal quotas, Advani charged the Congress party and its allies with pushing for religion-based reservations, forgetting the debates in the Constituent Assembly and despite courts rejecting such quotas.
"Their politics of minority-ism is guided not by concern for the welfare of minorities, but solely by the desire to consolidate the minority vote-bank politics," he said.
"Communal reservations fuelled by the politics of minority-ism are harmful as they were not in the interests of minorities themselves, were detrimental to national integration and have the potential to fragment Hindu society," the senior BJP leader said.
Calling for a national debate on why both existing and future minority educational institutions should also carry the obligation of statutory reservation for SCs and STs, he said, "This is a national obligation, borne out of the nation's collective determination to achieve the social, educational and economic empowerment of SCs and STs."
Referring to the "rapid growth" of minority educational institutions in states like Kerala, he said, "This growth cannot be justified on the grounds that Christians and Muslims in Kerala are educationally, socially or economically backward. Hence, there is no reason why only non-minority educational institutions should have the obligation of reservations for SCs and STs."
Taking exception to the "few voices-marginal and not mainstream" from within the Jain community that they be declared as a minority community, he said it was both "flawed and fraught with peril".
Besides the objective of enjoying the benefits of quotas in education and jobs with Congress and other parties announcing religion-based reservations, the demand by some Jains was also prompted by the benefits and protections, which would accrue to educational institutions run by community members after getting "minority status".
Referring to similar demands made earlier by Ramkrishna Mission and Arya Samaj, he said, if this trend continues, there is real danger of more and more sections of Hindu society wanting the minority tag since belonging to the majority community seems to attract discrimination and handicap.
Maintaining that even senior Jain religious leaders, including Acharya Mahapragya were against the demand, he appealed to the community to abandon it forthwith. He also expressed concern over the fire tragedy in Meerut and said party President Rajnath Singh has left for the venue.
'90 yatra was not against VP Singh
In an apparent attempt not to alienate the influential OBC voters, Advani said asserted that his 1990 Ram Rath Yatra was not aimed at countering the implementation of recommendations of the Mandal Commission announced by the then V P Singh government.
He also announced that the party would give its considered view on the move to hike quotas in educational institutions after the government comes out with a concrete proposal.
"The party had already planned to undertake a big campaign in support of the construction of a Ram temple at Ayodhya. Then came the Mandal and it happened that the two coincided," he said.
Advani was responding to a question on why the party was silent on HRD Minister Arjun Singh's move to hike OBC quota in institutions of higher learning, including IIMs and IITs whereas it had taken out the 'Ram Rath Yatra' in the wake of the V P Singh Government announcing plans to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations.
He said there were differences between the government and the Election Commission on the issue and once the Congress-led coalition comes out with a formal proposal, the party would give its "considered view."
Advani's remarks on the issue 16 years after the 'Somnath-Ayodhya Rath Yatra' assumes significance as it was widely believed that the eventful programme, which led to the fall of the V P Singh Government after his arrest in Samastipur in Bihar, was primarily aimed at countering the Mandal implementation.
Terms like 'Mandal vs Kamandal' had also gained currency at that time. However, over the past decade, BJP has emerged as a frontrunner in the race for minority votes.
Besides having a substantial number of OBC MPs, its chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat belong to OBC.
Hence, the BJP's hesitation in responding to the HRD Minister's move is being seen as an attempt to steer clear of any controversy that could alienate its support base in the community.