Poll campaign kicks off on a shrill note

Poll campaign kicks off on a shrill note
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First Published: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 12 49 AM IST

Fight begins: Sonia Gandhi. Vijay Verma / PTI
Fight begins: Sonia Gandhi. Vijay Verma / PTI
Updated: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 12 49 AM IST
New Delhi: The electoral battle lines were drawn on Sunday with the two main national parties, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, aggressively setting out the broad contours of their campaign strategies and calling for unity of rank and file in the quest for power.
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Staking the Congress’ claim for a second straight term in office, party president Sonia Gandhi said the coalition it leads would pursue economic growth with equity, and took the battle to the opposition by claiming it also had the best credentials to lead the fight against terrorism.
The BJP concluded a two-day meeting of its national executive council in Nagpur by hitting out at the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) for alleged corruption, and for failing to secure the country against terrorist attacks and stem job losses in the context of a deteriorating global economy.
The BJP decided to focus its energies on winning the youth vote—a substantial component of the electorate in the general elections due to take place before May. At the same time, it reiterated its nationalist identity in its electoral slogan: Victory for BJP is victory for India.
Fight begins: Sonia Gandhi. Vijay Verma / PTI
Addressing a national convention of Congress party functionaries in New Delhi, Gandhi bet big on the ruling coalition’s flagship development programmes, a record farm loan waiver, a two-step cut in fuel prices and stimulus packages to revive the economy, signalling the likely themes of the party’s campaign in the national elections.
Charging the BJP with trying to make political capital out of terrorism, she said: “Those who mobilize people on religious lines, mislead people in the name of Ram cannot become an effective force against terror.”
Her attack on the BJP for using the name of the god Ram to attract Hindu votes came a day after BJP chief Rajnath Singh revived the issue of building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
In a veiled reference to the Congress party’s poor performance in the just concluded state elections in Madhya Pradesh, she made an appeal for party unity. “I have said several times that the party should come before the individual. Every time we have lost, it was not because of the opposition, instead it was because of our internal divisions,” Gandhi said.
Some experts questioned the Congress’ ability to position itself strongly on the subject of terrorism. Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at the New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, said the Congress’ track record on terrorism has been poor. “The record of the government after the Mumbai attacks is of waging a war of empty words on Pakistan,” Chellaney said.
Addressing the national executive council meeting in Nagpur, L.K. Advani, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, said: “If the UPA government has any achievement to its credit, it is scaling new heights in corruption.”
Targeting youth: L.K. Advani at the BJP meet in Nagpur on Sunday. PTI
Advani referred to alleged wrongdoing in the award of highway projects and telecom licences and failure to pursue Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, a suspect in the Bofors gun deal scam of the 1980s. He also demanded a judicial inquiry to “unearth” the political dimensions of the Rs7,136 crore accounting scandal at Satyam Computer Services Ltd in the Congress-ruled state of Andhra Pradesh.
Maintaining that the saffron party had “never left Ram”, Advani, said, “In (the) true sense, we will be able to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’ only when a magnificent temple of the Lord is built (in Ayodhya).”
In a candid admission about dissent harming the party’s electoral prospects, Advani said, “…we scored self-goals in the recent assembly elections in Rajasthan and Delhi”.
However, Dalit writer Chandra Bhan Prasad doesn’t expect the Ram temple issue to help the BJP win Hindu votes. “The Ram temple issue will not get the BJP more votes because its appeal is over. People are no longer voting on the basis of religion but continue to vote on caste lines,” he said.
According to Pratap Bhanu Mehta of the Centre for Policy Research, voters do not make choices based on speeches, but on actual performance.
PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 12 49 AM IST