In an interview with the television news channel AajTak, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said on Friday that the Election Commission's decision to ban the proposed rally by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad could be justified in view of the conditions that had prevailed in the state in recent months.
Asked about the Bharatiya Janata Party's criticism of the ban as 'biased', the prime minister said a superficial view would justify that statement, but a deeper understanding of the issues involved would leave one with no choice but to support the ban.
"The Government of Gujarat has done the right thing by acting as per the directive of the Election Commission to prohibit religious processions in the state ahead of the assembly election on December 12. I appeal to all organisations to honour this directive issued by the constitutional authority and help the state administration in discharging its duty," he said.
"With the election less than a month away, it is natural for political and social organisations to want to go among the people and conduct their campaign. It is their democratic right. It is also, however, the democratic duty of one and all to exercise it in a lawful way. Even protest has to be expressed in a peaceful manner without inflaming passions. It is only through scrupulous obedience of the law that we can enhance the prestige and efficacy of our democracy."
Vajpayee said the people of Gujarat would give their verdict soon and there was no need for making allegations and counter allegations. "I urge all political parties and organisations to focus their election campaign on issues of development and governance and not on matters that vitiate the atmosphere. I do hope that after the state government's decision all concerned would work towards peaceful conclusion of the polls," he said.
Asked about the VHP announcing its decision to go ahead with the yatra, Vajpayee said the Gujarat government had initially given permission to it, but later thought it fit not to allow it after assessing the situation. "I hope all parties and outfits will abide by it," he said.
On the path chosen by the VHP, he said, "It is difficult to say what it will do.... But I feel things will settle down with attention being focussed on the election."
To a question about degeneration in Gujarat politics, he said, "It was happening all over the country and not just in Gujarat."
Expressing the hope that the election will usher in a 'new beginning' for Gujarat, the prime minister said it should bring communal harmony and end political instability in the state.
He said Godhra could not be an election issue, nor could the events that followed. Godhra was a manifestation of bestiality and such issues cannot be made election issues. There are better issues to contest the election on, he said.
He said everyone must be focussed on the election and on ensuring that the people are able to elect a government of their choice that could help improve their lives and nothing should be done that could vitiate the atmosphere at this stage.
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