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Govt. will act tough: PM
By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, MARCH 1. Even as the Government heaved a sigh of relief that the VHP-sponsored ``bharat bandh'' passed off without any major trouble, a determined and angry Opposition (and some allies) kept up the pressure on the Centre to ensure that the Gujarat Government fulfilled its obligation to protect all citizens.

In the evening, the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, received a delegation of non-NDA political leaders and heard from them the Narendra Modi Government's acts of commission and omission. It was decided that the Government and the Opposition issue a joint appeal.

Asking the people to maintain peace and communal harmony, the joint appeal ``urged them to isolate the perpetrators of violence and defeat their sinister designs.'' While affirming that ``it is our collective responsibility to promote brotherhood and national unity at all costs,'' the joint appeal extracted an assurance from Mr. Vajpayee: ``the Prime Minister assures the people that the Central Government would deal firmly and effectively with the situation in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country. All of us expect the State Governments to do the same.``

Also, it was decided, as per the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi's suggestion that an all-party delegation visit Ahmedabad as soon as possible. The Union Home Minister, L.K. Advani, told the leaders about the measures, including deployment of the Army, put in place. Among those met Mr. Vajpayee included I.K. Gujral, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, A.B. Bardhan, Jana Krishnamurthy, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, Ms. Mayawati and Yerran Naidu (TDP). The TDP leader had earlier met Mr. Vajpayee and urged him to hold discussions with political leaders. The TDP leader was particularly unhappy with the reported remark of Mr. Modi that the anger of people (over the Godhra incident) was understandable.

After the meeting, the Prime Minister drove to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to brief the President, K.R. Narayanan, on the Gujarat situation and what was being done to control the violence. During the 30-minute meeting, he apprised Mr. Narayanan of the consultations with the Opposition leaders.

The Prime Minister also gave an audience to the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid. The Imam wanted to convey to Mr. Vajpayee the Muslim community's feeling that the Gujarat Government had deliberately failed to protect the minorities.

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