NATIONAL

Shun `vote bank peddlers,' Advani tells Muslims

NEW DELHI, MARCH 3. The Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, today asked Muslims to shun "vote bank peddlers'' and focus on their own development, especially education.

He said the peace initiative with Pakistan taken by the Vajpayee Government would impact on communal relations in the country. He claimed that during the five-year Vajpayee Government rule the country had seen an atmosphere of communal harmony had been created.

At an "event'' organised at his residence this morning, the All-India Jamait-e-Salmani president, Haji Islam Kamar Salmani, joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. He came with a couple of hundred people of backward castes among Muslims and all claimed to join the party, although later the party general secretary, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, said that Haji Salmani alone had taken membership of the party.

Mr. Advani lauded the peace initiative with Pakistan taken by the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in spite of the "betrayal" after the Lahore bus journey and the second attempt at establishing peace at the Agra summit.

Referring indirectly to the announcement of a half-day holiday in all schools every Friday by the Mulayam Singh Yadav Government in Uttar Pradesh (the order was subsequently withdrawn), Mr. Advani said that Muslims did not need a holiday from education but more of it.

He said that under the Constitution reservations on the basis of religion was not possible, but backward castes among Muslims were covered under the reservation policy for social and educational backwardness. In June last year, four more Muslim backward castes were added to the list of those eligible for reservations. These were the Salmanis, the Siddiquis, the Mansuris and the Idrisis.

He said the "real feel-good factor would be felt when backwardness was removed and the villages and rural areas felt good.'' It was the second time recently that Mr. Advani indirectly expressed the view that the feel-good factor had yet to percolate to the rural areas.

The party general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, criticised the Congress and other Opposition parties for being critical of the proposed "India Shining yatra'' of Mr. Advani. He said the Congress was fearful that the "yatra" would be able to garner votes for the BJP in a big way.

Mr. Mahajan said that there was no ban on any political party appropriating the Government slogan, "India Shining" or its Hindu equivalent, "Bharat Uday." No law or model code of conduct had been violated.

As for the criticism from the Rashtriya Janata Dal chief, Laloo Prasad Yadav, and the Lok Janshakti president, Ram Vilas Paswan, that the "yatra" would inflame communal passions, he said: "It is a subject they have on their minds, and they see it everywhere.'' He criticised Mr. Yadav for planning to repeat what he did in Samastipur in 1990 when he had stopped Mr. Advani's "yatra" from Somnath to Ayodhya and put him under arrest. "That time the (V.P. Singh) Government fell, this time if he does it he will face the wrath of the people and he could be wiped out in Bihar itself,'' Mr. Mahajan said. No permission was needed from anyone to conduct an election campaign, there would be no violence, and it was for the States concerned to ensure "kanoon vyavastha'' (law and order).