January 13 (The Independent)--Some people call the Indian Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani the future Prime Minister of India. Indian Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani said in the early part of this month that Hinduism is opposed religious extremism. People of India, including the neighboring countries, will only laugh at it. "Let's understand that India is secular because the culture, tradition and history of India-whatever you call it, Indianness, Hindutva (Hinduism) cannot accept this kind of religious fundamentalism," Advani said in an interview on Star television. Advani's statement came two days after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, in a new year message to the country, said secularism and Hindutva were not opposing concepts. The controversy over the Mandir-Masjid issue has raised its ugly head again, thanks to the observation of Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee recently to the effect that the Hindus and Muslims could come to an agreement by which a Ram temple could be built on the disputed site in Ayodhya while a mosque could come up at an alternative site. Somehow, the reverse possibility did not seem to occur to him. Certain Muslim organizations have been cogently insisting that the Masjid be rebuilt on the same site at Ayodhya. In principle, this is a valid demand both legally and morally. But it is not a practicable solution for the reason that such a move is sure to incite the Sangh Parivar to resume mayhem and violence.
Vajpayee says construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya is in keeping with the "national sentiment." The three statements--by Mr. Thackeray, Mr. Singhal and Mr. Vajpayee--send a chill down one's spine. Where are these leaders of the Hindutva leading India? Can India remain a secular democratic country under them? It is sad that many parties claiming to be secular are propping up BJP rule in India for some short term gains. Advani said that there was no major threat of religious extremism in his country. Then someone asked a question. Asked if Hindutva would be an issue in elections polls in several states this year, Advani said the emphasis would be on security and development. But he added that if other parties accused his right-wing Hindu Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) of being communal, then the BJP would not shy away from reopening the debate on the issue. "If the BJP is sought to be attacked on the grounds that it is anti-secular, it's communal, then the debate will come around to what is secular." Advani emphasised that India was secular because it was predominantly Hindu. "It is Hindutva that has entrenched secularism in this country." The minister said that the country was partitioned on the basis of religion, but while its arch rival and neighbour Pakistan became an Islamic state, India chose to remain secular. In his new year's speech, Vajpayee indirectly attacked the right-wing Hindu organizations, affiliated to the BJP, for being ``narrow, rigid and extremist.'' The debate on Hinduism came to the fore during last month's elections in the riot-hit state of Gujarat.

The BJP returned to power in Gujarat after an overwhelming victory credited largely to a campaign based on Hindutva. But critics said that the BJP had capitalized on months of rioting. Muslims were the main victims of the ensuing widespread violence that left up to 2,000 dead. Buoyed by its victory in Gujarat, the BJP has said it will take its hardline message to voters in upcoming polls in several other states.

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