The National Integration Council meeting turned out to be a play-off between the “communal’’ and “secular’’ forces. The BJP-NDA stood isolated as almost all the other members demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal.
There was, however, unanimity on the demand for a judicial probe into the Jamia Nagar encounter. But the Centre came in for flak for not doing enough to control the situation in Orissa and Karnataka — particularly from Left leaders who, while opposed to the dismissal of state governments under Article 356, wanted a stern warning issued under Article 355 to Orissa.
National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan came in for attack from many members for his statement that a ban on the Bajrang Dal may not be sustainable.
Barring the signal that the NIC was concerned about the communal flare-ups, parties and leaders stuck to their known stands; others came out with a sense of dissatisfaction.
“I was expecting something more concrete from the meeting,’’ said Annie Raja of the National Federation of Indian Women after the deliberations ended with a resolution that failed to come out with a specific action plan.
With the more vociferous among the anti-BJP voices — SP’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD’s Lalu Prasad and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan — seated on the dais along with the PM and Sonia Gandhi, presumably to avoid a slanging match, it was left to leaders like CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, CPI’s A.B. Bardhan and SP’s Amar Singh to lead the “secular” offensive.
Gujarat CM Narendra Modi did not speak at the meeting despite Home Minister Shivraj Patil’s invitation. But at the outset he sought to put the NIC on the defensive by demanding it pay homage to its deceased members, including CPM’s Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Congress’s Nirmala Deshpande.
The saffron offensive was led by BJP chief Rajnath Singh and senior leader Sushma Swaraj. They disagreed with the demand for a ban on the Bajrang Dal and opposed sending “discriminatory” advisories to Orissa and Karnataka when communal violence was taking place in other states too.
They also questioned the exclusion of terrorism from the agenda, accused the UPA of being soft on terror for “vote-bank politics” and objected to the non-inclusion of the posts of Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha as NIC members.
The counter came from Amar Singh who while seeking a ban on the Bajrang Dal/VHP also called for a judicial inquiry into the Jamia Nagar encounter. He demanded immediate implementation of the Srikrishna Commission report. And Paswan made it clear later that he would raise the issues he could not talk about at the meeting at the next Cabinet meeting.