NATIONAL

Godhra was wrong, what followed was even worse: PM

The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, joking with an artist who recited his poem at a reception in Banghok on Friday. - PTI  

BANGKOK OCT. 10. The Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said today that the Godhra train carnage was "wrong", but what happened after the Godhra incident was even worse.

Addressing the Indian community here, Mr. Vajpayee, who had an audience with the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, said those responsible for the Gujarat mayhem were standing in the dock today.

More Muslims lived in India than Pakistan, he said. India's Muslim community, he stated, "lived properly," and if they faced problems could go and knock on the doors of the courts.

Referring to Kashmir, the Prime Minister said the issue had become a "headache", but questioned Pakistan's credentials to call for a "referendum" in Kashmir when the Pakistani people themselves could not choose their own leader.

Pointing out that India's profile abroad was improving, the Prime Minister said as the leader of one crore people there was nothing he had done in public life that he should be ashamed of.

"Saaf chaadar hai. Kisi tarh ka kalank nahin hain" (My record is clean. There are no blemishes), Mr. Vajpayee said about his record in public life.

"If people don't like me, they can remove me," the Prime Minister, who also referred to the upcoming State Assembly elections, said.

Mr. Vajpayee pointed to the strengths of India's democracy. "Mrs. (Indira) Gandhi imposed the emergency — she had to go. Then she won again. The electoral process was the deciding factor."

The Prime Minister, seemingly inspired by children of Indian origin singing one of his poems ("We will not let war happen"), said Indians might have differences back home, but abroad they were one. (Ham bahar hain, to ek hain).

Mr. Vajpayee said his earlier visit to Bangkok took place when he was in the Opposition. "Now, I have been the Prime Minister for the last five years. Our tradition is not to have a Prime Minister for more than one year, but this has been changed by the people of India."

Pointing to his multi-party Government, he said that some times he had to count the number of parties in his coalition when visitors asked him for a number.

Not a single person had died of starvation in India, Mr. Vajpayee said, asking his audience not to believe newspaper reports that might suggest otherwise. There may have been delays in reaching grain to the people.

His Government had provided wheat at Rs. 2 per kilo and rice at Rs. 3. And as many as 35 crore people had been provided foodgrain completely free of cost. "We have abundant food reserves. There is no question of people dying from starvation."

"I can claim that our Government is working well. The Vidhan Sabha elections are coming up. The people can vote for anyone... I have never changed my party; I never abandoned principles for power."

Turning to Pakistan, the Prime Minister said, despite his poem "We will not let war happen", he could not stop the Kargil conflict. In the roots of Kargil lay the basis for the coup by the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, the Prime Minister said.

India, he said, took back every inch of Kargil from Pakistan, but Islamabad, clearly, had not learnt anything from the creation of Bangladesh. "Those who divided India could not keep Pakistan together," he maintained.

In spite of the Kargil war, the Prime Minister said he had offered his hand of friendship to Pakistan yet again. "Shouldn't we live as friends, together?" the Prime Minister asked.

The people of Kashmir, he was sure, did not want to live in Pakistan. The then Maharaja, Hari Singh, had signed the instrument of accession, but Pakistan occupied one-third of Pakistan soon after independence.

"We should not have come to any understanding (with the Pakistanis). We should not have left Kashmir to them. Now, Kashmir is a headache."

Rejecting the Pakistani call for a referendum in Kashmir, he suggested that first a referendum should be held in Pakistan so that people could decide whether they wanted to be ruled by a dictator.

He said that while India did not want war, New Delhi was prepared for any eventuality. "We have made the biggest of weapons for deterrence. Don't make the mistake of attacking India," he told Pakistan.