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Advani pats Modi on Gaurav Yatra

New Delhi, Sept. 15: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today came out in strong support of Narendra Modi’s Gaurav Yatra by not only describing the massive turnout in Gujarat as a major success for the chief minister, but also by asking BJP supporters to use it as an example to be followed during mass contact programmes.

“The massive turnout at the Gujarat chief minister’s Gaurav Yatra is a source of nervousness for Opposition parties,” Advani said this afternoon during the concluding session of the BJP office-bearers meeting. “When the Opposition parties denigrate Gujarat as ‘Godse’s Gujarat’, the need for restoring Gujarat’s gaurav (pride) is all the more.”

The BJP today announced its plans for a massive mass contact programme, aimed at expanding its rural support base. The Gaon Chalo Abhiyan — scheduled to be launched on September 25, the birth anniversary of Deen Dayal Upadhyay, and conclude on November 1 — hopes to target five lakh villages in different parts of the country.

The party plans to hold a massive public rally in Delhi at the end of this exercise in the first week of December to highlight the achievements of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government. Several senior BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will address the rally.

Advani pointed out what he expected of the BJP supporters to make the proposed mass contact programme a success. “Just as the Gujarat Yatra is a highly successful programme, we must now work with devotion to make the Gaon Chalo Abhiyan and the proposed December rally a success,” he said.

The deputy Prime Minister’s remarks supporting Modi came at a time when a TV news channel broadcast a recording of the Gujarat chief minister’s speech during the yatra where he was heard making derogatory remarks against Muslims.

“I told them that I got water from the Narmada in the month of Shravan. If they had it their way, they would have got it in Ramzan,” Modi allegedly addressed the gathering in Gujarati, English subtitles of which were provided by the channel.

“What should we do' Run relief camps for them' Do we want to open baby producing centres' We are five and we will have 25 offsprings. Gujarat has not been able to control its growing population and poor people have not been able to get money,” Modi was heard as saying.

The government denied the existence of such a tape and claimed there was nothing in the text of the chief minister’s speech that suggested targeting the minorities. But the TV channel has given a new twist to the controversy by playing the tapes — the National Commission of Minorities has asked for a copy of the tape following a furore over Modi’s remarks.

The channel claimed that the Gujarat intelligence department had submitted a report to the additional chief secretary, home, quoting portions of Modi’s speech that they felt could have hurt the feelings of minorities and increased communal tension in the state.

Though Advani expressed his support for the Gaurav Yatra, there was no direct reference from him on the contents of the Modi tapes. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, however, said he had “cautioned” the Gujarat chief minister and explained that this had been done to ensure his speeches were not “misinterpreted” in the future.

Naidu said 100 senior leaders of the BJP, including a number of Union ministers, would be made to participate in the Gaon Chalo Abhiyan, which will go on for more than two months in different parts of the country.

It will be launched by the BJP chief from a small village near Gurgaon in Haryana, while Advani will launch a similar programme from Chitrakoot in Uttar Pradesh.

“This will be a milestone for our party as well as the country,” Naidu said about the proposed Abhiyan. He said the main aim of the programme was to expand the BJP’s social and political base in the rural areas, highlight the achievements of the NDA government and also provide an opportunity for the party to get a feel of the rural areas, specially the problems in the villages.

The implementation of the various programmes of the NDA government to uplift the rural poor, such as the Prime Minister’s Swampurna Rozgar Yogna, would be given a special focus.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh initiated the last such mass contact exercise undertaken by the BJP. But the programme ended up without much success. The fact that the ruling party has decided to launch this programme is an admission on its part that its contact with rural India was minimal.

Naidu made no bones about the fact that the main aim of the Abhiyan was to ensure that the BJP increased it’s seats in the Lok Sabha to the 300 mark from the present 182 at the next general elections. He said special stress would be laid to the South, East and North-eastern states, where the party’s support base was weak.

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