Party leaders from U.P. meet at Gadkari's residence

High-level consultations among Sangh Parivar leaders and within the Bharatiya Janata Party have begun on what stance the political party should adopt on the impending verdict in the consolidated title suits related to the disputed land where the Babri Masjid was demolished and where the makeshift Ram Lala temple stands at Ayodhya.

The dilemma facing the BJP was evident from the direction of the discussions held so far. At a meeting of top leaders from Uttar Pradesh at the residence of party chief Nitin Gadkari on Tuesday afternoon, the need to exercise “caution” was stressed keeping in mind that many leaders were “thoroughly discredited” on the party's Ram temple plank.

Some felt that the pointed reference was to L.K. Advani, who was recently targeted by Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Ashok Singhal when he said the BJP leadership should “atone for its sin” of dumping the Ram temple project when it was in power in Delhi for six years from 1998 to 2004.

The meeting called by Mr. Gadkari was attended by a number of leaders, including Rajnath Singh, M.M. Joshi, Kalraj Mishra, Yogi Adityanath, Maneka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi. The Ayodhya issue and the possible fallout of the verdict were discussed for 90 minutes.

Over the last weekend, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Madan Das Devi, Mr. Gadkari and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan were among those who met at Chitrakoot to discuss the verdict expected to be delivered before October 1, when one of the three judges on the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court that heard the cases is due to retire.

The Ayodhya question has been uppermost in the minds of BJP leaders. At Tuesday morning's parliamentary party meeting, MP Chandan Mitra wanted to know how they should “prepare themselves” for the verdict and what stance they should adopt. Chairman of the parliamentary party L.K. Advani reportedly cautioned party men to wait till the party formulated its response contingent upon the court ruling. At all times the response of party MPs should be cogent and mature, he advised.

Mr. Gadkari was himself cautious, acutely aware of the dilemma that the party would face if it were to come out on the streets to defy an unfavourable verdict or force immediate implementation of a favourable one. Although in the context of the Supreme Court's order to the government to distribute foodgrains that could rot for lack of adequate storage facilities, Mr. Gadkari said “no one should criticise any judgment of any court.” He refused to comment when asked whether the BJP would follow this advice when the Ayodhya verdict was delivered. “No comment” was his answer.

Party insiders admit that from the late 1980s to 1992, when the Ayodhya agitation peaked under the BJP's leadership, the party had not been in power at the Centre. When it did enjoy power, it realised it could not violate court orders or be seen to be supporting any blatantly unconstitutional move. “We have to avoid past mistakes and also learn to take the larger ideological family along,” said an influential leader, referring to the open bickering and ugly verbal accusations flung by Mr. Singhal at top BJP leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr. Advani.

An emotive issue

It is admitted it will not be easy for the BJP to exercise restraint and remain on the sidelines as “it is an emotive issue for the party and immense pressure will build up from our rank and file” to jump on the bandwagon of any fresh agitation that the VHP and the Sangh Parivar may start.

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