Vajpayee runs the gauntlet of radical Hindus
NEW DELHI: Premier Atal Behari Vajpayee’s olive branch to Pakistan came in for severe criticism on Sunday from a radical Hindu group closely allied to the premier’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that leads the central government.
A prominent militant leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, World Hindu Council), Praveen Togadia, slammed the premier’s moves at a public rally in the capital, New Delhi, organised to distribute tridents to activists.
The trident is considered a religious symbol because it is the weapon of the Hindu god of destruction, Shiva. Urging Mr Vajpayee to punish Pakistan instead of forgiving it for promoting cross-border terrorism in Indian Kashmir, Mr Togadia warned that New Delhi had often cautioned Islamabad against supporting insurgency.
“Jihadi terrorism will not end with warnings,” he said.
Relations between India and Pakistan began to thaw on April 18 after a 17-month hiatus, when Mr Vajpayee offered talks with Pakistan while on a visit to the disputed region of Kashmir that has caused two of the three wars between the nuclear neighbours since partition in 1947 and brought them to the brink of war last year.
Diplomatic ties and air, rail and road links between the two countries were cut by India after an attack on its Parliament in December 2001 which New Delhi blamed on militants supported by Islamabad.
On April 28, Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali telephoned Mr Vajpayee to invite him to Pakistan for talks and also offered to travel to India himself. The leaders also spoke about resuming people-to-people contact and improving trade and cultural ties.
On Friday Mr Vajpayee announced the restoration of diplomatic ties and airlines with Pakistan. On the following day Mr Jamali sent a formal invitation to Mr Vajpayee to visit Islamabad. The Indian premier did not accept or decline the invite, but said “careful planning” was needed before any meeting in Islamabad.
The VHP is the second major Hindu group associated with the BJP to criticise Mr Vajpayee’s peace efforts. The Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP and a member of India’s 24-party ruling coalition, has also been critical.
“Why the haste of extending a hand of friendship towards Pakistan when the infiltration and terrorism sponsored by that country is continuing unabated?” the Shiv Sena chief, Balasaheb Thackeray, said on Sunday. —AFP