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December 27, 1997


'Others misguide Muslims. We'll take them along'

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

''Log Musalmano ko gumrah kar rahen hain, hum unhe humrah karna chahte hain'' (others have been misguiding Muslims, we wish to take them along).

Astonishingly, this comes from Bharatiya Janata Party vice-president and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, a hardliner who always pursued a strong Hindutva line.

Facing trial as the key accused in the Babri mosque demolition conspiracy, the chief minister makes no bones about his party's plans to woo Muslims. ''Yes, we are going to give party tickets to Muslims in the Lok Sabha election,'' he told Rediff On The Net. ''The candidate must, however, have the potential to win.... Let me assure you, if a candidate has the potential to win a seat, he will not be sidelined simply because he happens to be a Muslim.''

Significantly, Kalyan Singh's remarks came within 24 hours of Congress leader and well-known hockey Olympian Aslam Sher Khan crossing over to the BJP.

Asked how the BJP would appease the Muslim sentiments vis-a-vis the 16th century Babri mosque demolition in December 1992, when he was the chief minister, Kalyan pointed out, ''Well, barring a few misguided Muslims, the larger section is aware that no mosque was demolished in Ayodhya. It was a structure, where no namaz had been offered since 1935. Muslims also know that Hindus had been offering prayers before the idol of infant Lord Ram inside the structure for decades. They are also convinced that the temple will continue to remain there for all times to come.''

The chief minister, however, has made it clear that his party had no intentions of playing the Ayodhya card.

Obviously, with an eye on Shia votes -- a section of whom are known to be favourably inclined towards BJP leader and prime ministerial nominee Atal Bihari Vajpayee -- Kalyan has plans of resolving the long-pending 'Azaadari procession' issue. The UP government's 20-year-old ban on the procession has led to violent protests and bloody Shia-Sunni riots. ''I am sure we will be able to thrash out a solution,'' he said.

Asked why the party was whittling down the Hindutva stand, he shot back, ''The BJP has certainly not left its Hindutva line.... There are other more vital issues that cannot be ignored. The party will not compromise with its principle of ensuring justice for all; and appeasement of none.''

Apparently realising that the BJP would not be able to grab power at the Centre unless it follows the middle path, Kalyan Singh said, ''It is wrong to brand the BJP as an upper caste party. If you go by the figures, you will find that we have many more dalit MPs and MLAs than any other political party... Why are people often forced to believe that the entire dalit community is represented by the BSP, or that all the other backward castes are rallying behind Mulayam Singh Yadav?''

Asked if the BJP's hopes of sweeping the polls would not get dashed in case of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party come together, Kalyan Singh retorted, ''First of all, such a possibility is too remote, specially because of the mutual animosity between the two parties. Even if such an alliance materialises, it will not affect our chances of winning more than 52 -- its tally in the last election -- of the 85 Lok Sabha seats. But the BJP candidates's winning margins may come down.''

Asked how this would be possible when the two parties bagged 40 per cent of the votes in the last election as against the BJP's 32 per cent, the UP chief minister retorted, ''But aren't you aware that in terms of seats their individual tally did not go beyond 22 (16 SP and 6 BSP). So, even if they strike an alliance, it would hardly make any dent in our vote bank.''

BJP has an edge in UP
BSP does not want power, but instability
Kalyan Singh turns a blind eye to corruption in state bureaucracy

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