Special Correspondent

“What conscience Shekhawat and his backers in the BJP were talking about?”

Shekhawat was serving police when India was fighting for freedom

His conscience never pricked him during Babri Masjid demolition

NEW DELHI: Presidential candidate and Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat need not compare himself to V.V. Giri by using the latter’s call for a conscience vote in the 1969 Presidential contest to justify his own appeal, Shashi Bhushan, freedom fighter and former MP, said here on Wednesday.

Mr. Bhushan, who was directly involved in the 1969 Presidential tussle, wondered what “conscience” Mr. Shekhawat and his backers in the Bharatiya Janata Party were talking about. The Vice-President’s supporters were displaying certificates of his “meritorious” service in the police in the period when freedom fighters were being arrested, tortured, imprisoned and lathicharged for participating in the Quit India movement.

Explaining his call for a vote of conscience in 1969, he pointed out that Giri was the acting President after the death of Zakir Husain. Giri pursued higher studies in Dublin, where he worked with the Sinn Fein for Ireland’s freedom. He was called to the bar and returned to India in 1916. In 1920, he gave up his lucrative practice to join the non-cooperation movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi and was imprisoned several times. After Independence, he was Governor of Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Mysore, before being elected Vice-President in 1967.

On the other hand, Mr. Shekhawat was serving the police when India was fighting for freedom. Even “after Independence, his conscience never pricked him when the mosque in Ayodhya was demolished or when Gujarat, under the BJP rule, went through the worst carnage and a virtual genocide,” Mr. Bhushan said.

In 1969, Giri’s impressive record did not suit the syndicate in the Congress, and they decided to field Neelam Sanjiva Reddy. “It was in that atmosphere that I gave the call to ‘vote according to conscience.’ It was addressed to my fellow partymen asking them not to fall prey to the machinations of the syndicate,” said Mr. Bhushan, recalling how he was expelled from the Congress. Mr. Shekhawat’s call for a conscience vote was not addressed to his partymen, who were already supporting him; he was actually asking for cross-voting.