By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent
NEW DELHI: Paradoxically, a lot of noise has been made over Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)â€™s election manifesto, released last week (April 3), giving emphasis to revival of its Hindutva agenda after about a decade. Certainly, there is no doubt that the party is keen to project itself as a committed champion of its Hindutva-agenda, which include construction of a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh). Undeniably, this suggests that with L.K. Advani as its prime ministerial nominee, the BJP is hopeful of winning the Hindu majority vote by playing on the controversial temple issue. What, however, cannot be missed is that the manner in which BJP has displayed its manifesto this time, seems bereft of the aggressive and anti-Muslim approach, which prevailed when it used the same card earlier. Besides, notwithstanding their commitments to the Hindutva agenda, the BJP leadersâ€™ key electoral strategy appears more focused on keeping allies of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) together.
Not surprisingly, shortly after release of BJPâ€™s manifesto, Advani made it clear that it was the partyâ€™s document and not binding on NDA allies. â€œI am not asking them (NDA allies) to accept it,â€ It may be recalled, that with its member Atal Behari Vajpayee as the prime minister, BJP was able to assume power in 1999 â€“ leading the NDA coalition- only after putting its Hindutva agenda on the backburner. BJPâ€™s political strategy remains the same. In other words, Hindutva-agenda has been revived more as a political stunt to please its own saffron brigade and not the NDA. The NDA agenda would not be same as the BJP manifesto. Suggesting this, Advani said: â€œWe will send it (BJPâ€™s manifesto) to them (NDA allies) and ask which are the things they agree with and then jointly prepare the NDAâ€™s agenda for good governance and vision for the countryâ€™s future.â€
When questioned on BJPâ€™s allies having objection to the partyâ€™s stand on building temple in Ayodhya, Advani replied: â€œThey had problems with the government passing a law in parliament to construct a temple but not if the court decided the matter or community leaders arrived at a solution.â€ Advaniâ€™s response apparently suggests that the BJP has no problems in agreeing to NDAâ€™s earlier stand on the controversial temple issue. It also indicates that the BJP activists have backtracked from the stance they had earlier of taking law in their own hands â€“ suggested by demolition of Babari Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Blaming Congress, in other words absolving the saffron brigade, for sufferings of Indian Muslims, Advani said that the Sachar committeeâ€™s report was an â€œeye-openerâ€ to this reality. The Congress-led government had â€œall the while been blaming us. Ultimately they had to tell the country that it was their failure that the minorities were in such a plight,â€ Advani said.
In addition to reviving Hindutva agenda, building the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the BJP manifesto refers to abrogation of Article 370, which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir. The party has also promised to give 35 kg rice per month at Rs two per kg to families below poverty line (BPL). Other populist measures of BJP include raising the slab of tax exemption of salaried class to Rs 300,000 per annum, while for the women the limit would be Rs 350,000. The BJP has also promised to waive off all current loans of farmers and give them new loans at four percent interest rate.
Janata Dal-United (JD-U) leader, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar laid out specifically that while his party and BJP are â€œconstituents of the NDA,â€ they â€œhold divergent views on a variety of issues.â€ â€œThe BJP as a political party is free to hold its views on the Ram temple and several other issues, but when we form a coalition government, no communal or contentious issue is on our agenda,â€ he said. Dismissing prospects of BJP heading a coalition government, with its Hindutva agenda in the forefront, Kumar said: â€œBJP is at liberty to implement these only if it is able to get a majority on its own. These issues were not part of the common agenda for governance when we were in the government earlier.â€ â€œCommunal agenda cannot succeed in the country in whose soul the principle of secularism is deeply ingrained. Be it Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs or Christians, a vast majority of Indians are genuinely secular,â€ he emphasized.
Criticizing the BJP for its manifesto, Union Minister and Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal said: â€œTheir problem is they give an agenda to people which has no value because when it comes to NDA, the partners are not willing to accept their agenda. Therefore, this is not a national agenda. This is a parochial BJP agenda which has no value.â€ â€œBJP has lost its way. This manifesto is a reflection of the fact that they have lost their way. They will never be in tune with India. They will always be the BJP which is never in tune with India,â€ he said.
Blaming the BJP for raking the temple issue, Congress leader Ashwini Kumar said: â€œWhenever elections come, BJP rakes up the issue of Ram temple to divide the country and society.â€ On the BJPâ€™s stand regarding article 370, he said: â€œThey (BJP) are not interested in secular polity of the country. They have one agenda and that is to whip up sentiments. It is not going to succeed.â€