Sunday, November 17, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

PM for restraint in Gujarat
May not visit Pak for SAARC
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 16
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has reservations about attending the SAARC summit in Pakistan in January next year due to Islamabad’s persistent machinations to raise bilateral issues against the charter of the South Asian grouping.

On the vexed Gujarat issue, with the VHP rejecting his appeal and threatening to take out the “vijay yatra” tomorrow despite the ban imposed by the Election Commission, he underlined the need for maintaining peace and communal harmony.

In a resigned tone, Mr Vajpayee said, “Sab apna kartavya nibha rahe hain (everyone is doing their duty)”. At the same time, he was confident that the BJP would regain power in Gujarat and dismissed the view that the Assembly elections in the state were a referendum for his government at the Centre.

On the SAARC summit, he wondered if any useful purpose would be served by attending the conclave in Islamabad with Pakistan seeking to introduce alien elements without dealing with other burning issues like fighting the scourge of poverty, enlarging trade and commercial ties and focussing on developmental endeavours.

Talking to mediapersons at a luncheon hosted by him at his official Race Course road residence here this afternoon, a relaxed Mr Vajpayee expressed doubts about going to Islamabad for the SAARC summit. At the same time, he warded off questions on the issue by observing, “Abhi time hai, faisle mein der hai (there is still time to take a decision).”

Clearly, India is concerned about Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf trying to derail the SAARC process and hijacking the concept for which the grouping was set up in Dhaka in 1985.

At the last SAARC summit in Kathmandu in January this year, General Musharraf had sought amending the SAARC’s charter to bring within its ambit discussion of bilateral issues. He had also desired that the SAARC summit should not be postponed if a Head of State or Government of the grouping is unable to attend it.

About the delicate situation emerging in Gujarat because of the VHP’s threats, Mr Vajpayee said he had advised all concerned to follow the directives of the Election Commission and desist from taking out religious processions. “Humne apna kartavya kar diya hai (we have done our duty).”

About VHP leaders contending that he was in his own emotional world, the Prime Minister said it might be better to seek clarifications from those who had made such statements.

Critical of the February 27 Godhra carnage and subsequent communal riots in Gujarat, he hoped communal harmony and development of the state would be the main planks of the election campaign and not incidents which fomented trouble and jeopardised the democratic process.

Asked if he would campaign in Gujarat, he said he would go if invited. He was quick to explain that the election programme had yet to be drawn up and, therefore, it was difficult for him to go into specifics at this juncture.

Mr Vajpayee did not think that a Mahabharata was being re-enacted in Gujarat. Without elaborating, he said if the media saw the present happenings in Gujarat as akin to the Mahabharata, then he wondered how the events unfolding in the future might be characterised.

At the same time, Union Communications and IT Minister Pramod Mahajan and other aides of the Prime Minister maintained that the Prime Minister had to issue a strongly worded statement yesterday to send a message to all sections, including the Sangh Parivar.

They said that having come this far, the VHP could not buckle under pressure meekly. The Narendra Modi government is actually aware of its duties and responsibilities in maintaining law and order in the run-up to the December 12 Assembly elections in Gujarat. They had no doubt that the heat generated by the VHP would die out in the next 48 hours.

The Prime Minister conceded that his government was coming up against roadblocks in liberalising the economy further and disinvestment of public sector undertakings. He stressed that consensus had to be built on these issues and reviews in this regard at the highest level in the government had become a constant exercise.

Others present on the occasion included Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj and Minister of State in the PMO Vijay Goel.

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