NATIONAL

BJP reluctant to join issue with VHP

NEW DELHI JAN. 3. The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) is rather reluctant to join issue with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on its comments about the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee's interpretation of Hindutva and his caustic remarks aimed at the VHP "extremists".

The BJP spokesman, Sunil Shastri, told presspersons that "anyone must think 10 times before talking about the Prime Minister, who is not only a BJP Prime Minister but the Prime Minister of the whole country". Beyond that he would not say anything on the harsh words used against Mr. Vajpayee and the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, by the VHP leader, Giriraj Kishore. Acharya Kishore had on Thursday described the Prime Minister as a "pseudo-Hindu" and his views on Hindutva as "pseudo-Hindutva".

The party perhaps wants to avoid a verbal duel with the VHP as that could only harm the BJP politically without worrying the VHP. It may also be looking for "cooperation" from various RSS outfits, including the VHP, for the coming Assembly elections. It is, after all, acutely aware that in Gujarat, the VHP's parallel campaign was a big help in winning the elections handsomely.

However, VHP leaders have made it plain that Gujarat was different; in other States, its cooperation would be forthcoming only if the Centre delivered on its promise of handing over some piece of the Centrally-acquired land in Ayodhya to enable the VHP to start constructing the proposed Ram temple. Acharya Kishore had made it clear that if the BJP-led Vajpayee Government refused to cooperate with it on the Ram temple issue, the VHP might not go out of its way to help the BJP win State elections.

In the past, the BJP had profited from the VHP's agitations, but the VHP would not let this happen again.

Mr. Shastri, however, insisted that the BJP had not betrayed the VHP on the Ram temple issue. "We continue to play the role of a facilitator," he said, adding, "the party is confident that the Government will take the right step on Ayodhya."

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