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How a section of the media tried to remove BJP from power in March 2002 by inventing a Yatra & collapsing the NDA alliance

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Author of the book “Gujarat Riots: The True Story” which gives all the details about the 2002 Gujarat riots - Godhra and thereafter.

Very few people remember now that a particular, biased section of the media had tried to oust the BJP from power at the Centre in March 2002 itself by inventing an ‘Asthi Yatra’. At that time the VHP had organized the Ram temple campaign in Ayodhya. The ‘liberal’ media’s hatred of the BJP had increased even more because of the post-Godhra riots of March 2002. At that time the NDA was not united. BJP had only 182 seats in the Lok Sabha, way short of the 272 needed for majority, and it was on the crucial support of the NDA allies that the NDA Government depended. The NDA’s pseudo-secular allies like the TDP (28 Lok Sabha MPs) and the DMK (12 Lok Sabha MPs) were indulging in brinkmanship.

Ever since the BJP had lost the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections in February 2002 and was down to the third place with just 88 out of the 403 seats, as against 176 out of the 425 it had won in united Uttar Pradesh (including today’s Uttarakhand) in the last elections there in 1996, the NDA allies were more demanding. At that time in February 2002, the BJP had unexpectedly lost the Uttarakhand (then known as Uttaranchal) Assembly polls too, winning just 19 out of 70 seats with the Congress winning a clear majority with 36 seats, though the vote share of both parties was almost the same, and also lost the Punjab Assembly polls badly winning only 3 seats out of the 23 it contested in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), of the total 117 of the Assembly, though the SAD had largely managed to retain its mass base winning 41 out of 92 contested seats, despite a split in the party.

And the post-Godhra riots saw the cracks in the NDA widening with parties like the TDP demanding the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s ouster. The malicious, inflated and one-sided reporting of the Gujarat riots could have resulted in the collapse of the NDA. TDP threatened to withdraw support to the NDA from outside, which could have resulted in NDA losing majority in the Lower House. NDA allies had already threatened to quit NDA if the BJP supported the Ram temple cause in March 2002. But ‘India Today’ said in its issue dated 29 April 2002, “TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu believed that Vajpayee wanted Modi out. Tried to hog credit for it. Ended up triggering a BJP backlash.”

The NDA then had DMK, MDMK, PMK, LJP, National Conference, TDP, Trinamool Congress, JD(U), Samata Party, INLD, and RLD among others, as its allies. These parties claimed to be highly ‘secular’ parties, and were totally opposed to the BJP’s ideology, and had joined the NDA coalition on the condition that the government will follow the NDA’s agenda, and keep the BJP’s Hindutva agenda away. In fact, the NDA had adopted a resolution on 2 February 1999 that: “Since the BJP is the core of our alliance, it shall make every effort to ensure that the prestige and cohesiveness of the coalition are not diluted by organizations belonging to its ideological fraternity.” (Read RSS, VHP).

But even the exaggerated reports, stark, malicious, dangerous lies, concocted stories and one-sided biased reporting about the 2002 riots proved insufficient for the collapse of the NDA. Only two allies-the Trinamool Congress (8 Lok Sabha MPs) and the LJP (4 Lok Sabha MPs) quit the NDA. And reportedly, the LJP quit the NDA not because of the Gujarat riots which was the reason cited by it, but because LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan (1946-2020) was not given the portfolio of his choice! It was Pramod Mahajan (1949-2006) who was given the portfolio Ram Vilas Paswan wanted.

As the days of March 2002 passed, the media and the Congress-led Opposition kept alleging that it is the BJP and not the NDA which is in power and that the NDA allies are allowing the BJP to run the government. The failure of the propaganda on the 2002 Gujarat riots to collapse the NDA resulted in a section of the media inventing a yatra- an Ashthi Yatra. There were front paged headlines of almost all English dailies if not all dailies and endless reporting by 24 hour private TV channels around 21 March 2002 that the VHP plans an “Ashthi Yatra” as a mark of respect for the dead karsevaks of Godhra by carrying their ashes in the Yatra. The already estranged NDA allies were further provoked.

There was a meeting of NDA allies and the BJP leadership on 22 March 2002 at that time, in which the allies were assured of the NDA agenda being adhered to. Later, talking to reporters informally, Sudip Bandopadhyaya (of the Trinamool Congress) said that in the current atmosphere putting a stop to the reported plan of taking out “asthi yatras” (processions carrying the ashes of the Godhra outrage victims) was a must. He said that such processions could only worsen the communal tension that had gripped Gujarat, and with festivals such as Holi and Muharram round the corner, nothing should be allowed which could disrupt peace and harmony.

This informal meeting was attended by Yerran Naidu (Telugu Desam Party), Ms. Mamata Banerjee and Mr. Bandopadhyaya (Trinamool Congress), Raghunath Jha and Prabhunath Singh (both Samata Party), D.P. Yadav (Janata Dal-United), Jai Narain Prasad Nishad (Lok Jan Shakti), Sushil Indora (INLD) and Ali Mohammed Naik and Abdul Rashid (both National Conference).

And Sharad Yadav (1947-), the then JD(U) chief and Union Labour Minister said on TV:

“If any such Yatra is allowed to go ahead the JD(U) will withdraw support to the NDA. This government is not of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad but of the NDA. [‘Ye sarkaar Vishwa Hindu Parishad ka nahin hein, NDA ka hein’]” And an English daily reported, “A VHP leader was saying-Can we not even pay tributes to the souls of the martyred Hindus in this country?”

And the controversy could have gone out of hand. But luckily for the NDA, instead of falling for the media provocation, the VHP quickly clarified when its then International General Secretary Praveen Togadia [born 12 December 1956] said on TV:

“No leader of VHP of the state level or the national level, had ever talked of any Ashthi Yatra to any reporter of any newspaper, periodical or TV channel. There is absolutely no proposal of any such Yatra. All the media reports are completely concocted.” 

The Hindu dated 23 March 2002 said in a report titled, “VHP denies plans for Ashthi Yatra”:

“While stating that it had no plans for an ‘asthi yatra’, the VHP’s international general secretary, Praveenbhai Togadia, expressed satisfaction that the matter had been discussed in Parliament. At a press conference here [Ayodhya], he wondered whether the “so-called” secular parties wanted to impose restrictions on the Hindu community by snatching away its right to mourn the death of `Ram sevaks’ in Godhra. He regretted that these parties had not raised their voice when Hindus were massacred in Kashmir and over three lakh people were made refugees…In Ahmedabad, the State VHP general secretary, Jaideep Patel, said that as of now his organisation had no programme that would entail public participation. “We can’t think of taking out an ‘asthi yatra‘ or sending ‘Ram sevaks’ to Ayodhya in view of the tense situation prevailing in parts of the State (Gujarat).” — PTI”

And thus the day was saved. A section of the media thought, or rather, hoped, that the VHP would adopt a confrontationist attitude and help the collapse of the NDA. But that was not to be.

[Above is a part of the book “Why the Vajpayee Government lost the 2004 Lok Sabha polls- An analysis” by M D Deshpande, who is also the author of ‘Gujarat Riots: The True Story’ https://www.amazon.in/dp/B08PRW5BNH This book on the 2004 Lok Sabha polls exposes a lot more media propaganda, particularly before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, and before the 2002 Gujarat State Assembly polls]

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Author of the book “Gujarat Riots: The True Story” which gives all the details about the 2002 Gujarat riots - Godhra and thereafter.
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