Surajkund/New Delhi: In an attempt to reposition itself as a “credible alternative” to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has indicated that it is keen to shed its image as a Hindu hardline party to strengthen the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) that it heads to gain the support of friendly parties ahead of the next general election.
Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, who was addressing the party’s executive and council meeting on the outskirts of the national capital, urged the party to stop the infighting and speak in unison. Hinting that the incumbent UPA government will not complete its full term, the veteran leader said the BJP needs to re-project itself in order to reassure its potential allies that “they have nothing to be apprehensive about partnering with the BJP.”
While BJP president Nitin Gadkari said the party should go to the polls on the issues of corruption, inflation and foreign direct investment in retail, Advani listed three tasks for the BJP before the general elections.
“Strengthening the BJP in all our present and past strongholds; make the present allies larger and robust; and transform NDA into NDA Plus,” he said.
“The third task mentioned above involves reassuring our potential allies that they have nothing to be apprehensive about partnering with the BJP. This requires an imaginative re-projection of our commitment to secularism,” he added. “We should with full conviction reassure our brethren belonging to the minority communities that we brook no discrimination or injustice in dealing with different sections of our diverse society.”
Advani’s remarks came a day after Gadkari condemned the anti-Islam film that has angered some Muslims in parts of the world.
Too much shouldn’t be read into the BJP’s attempt at making itself more appealing to Muslims, said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst who tracks the party.
“It is not the first time that the party is adopting this position. At its national executive meet in 1995, it made an effort to appease the minority community by saying that the Quran should be translated into Sanskrit. In 2000, Bangru Laxman made similar efforts to woo Muslims and Dalits. So the question is how sincere and credible BJP’s efforts would be this time,” he said. “This pre-posturing is a shield taken by the BJP to hide the simple fact that its voter base is not growing and it has failed to attract new allies.”
The BJP’s secular image took a hit following the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 and the Gujarat riots in 2002.
The party wants to reiterate to its workers and other political groupings that it is still the principal opposition in the country, Mrug said.
Advani’s call for self-introspection came in the wake of indifference within the party over the issue of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. His demand for a special session of Parliament was shot down by Gadkari. Another senior leader, Arun Shourie, broke ranks and spoke in favour of FDI in retail, the increase in diesel prices and capping of subsidised cooking gas cylinders supplies—all government measures that the BJP has opposed.
In an indirect reference to former chief Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, who resigned over corruption allegations, Advani said: “If we have to succeed in becoming a credible government, we need to sternly fight corruption within. Our USP is that we are a disciplined party and our workers are honest. We need to maintain this at any cost.”
Meanwhile, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s actions left his BJP colleagues bemused and guessing whether he was giving the cold shoulder to the party president and Advani, both of whom sought to honour party state chief ministers for their work.
Having made brief appearances on all the three days of the meeting, Modi left the dais soon after the BJP council members ratified the party’s constitutional amendment enabling present district, zonal, state and national presidents to seek re-election for a term of another three years. The move allowed Gadkari to seek re-election for another three-year term as party chief.
BJP leader Vijay Goel, who was hosting the event, began praising the achievements of Gujarat but stopped when he realized that Modi had left the stage. Instead, he lauded Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan for 18% agriculture growth and Himachal Pradesh chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal for his efforts on environment. Modi, who has of late not been on good terms with Advani, returned just before the latter started his closing remarks.
Earlier this year, the Gujarat chief minister forced Gadkari to seek the resignation of his bete noire Sanjay Joshi during the executive meet in Mumbai.
Later, at a public rally, Modi lashed out at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his government’s decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail.
“Why did PM become singham (lion) only twice in eight years. First, was during the nuclear deal (with the US) and now for FDI. He becomes singham only for foreign powers. The country wants to know. He gets active only when there are elections in the US,” he said.