| Sushma Swaraj at an election rally in Ahmedabad. (PTI)
Bhuj/Rajkot, Nov. 30: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani today challenged Pakistan to fight a fourth direct war with India instead of engaging in a proxy war by targeting temples and killing civilians.
Advani, who kicked off the BJP’s election campaign in Gujarat with a public meeting at Bhuj in quake-devastated Kutch, which shares a border with Pakistan, was quoted by PTI as saying: “Let us fight it out face to face. We have fought thrice, let there be a fourth war.”
Alleging that Islamabad has been nursing a wound since the creation of Bangladesh, Advani said he would have had no reservations had Pakistan fought the Indian security forces. “But killing of innocent civilians by attacking temples like Akshardham and Raghunath is unacceptable.”
In his second meeting at Rajkot — the political nerve-centre of Saurashtra — Advani abandoned his war-mongering and took the electoral battle straight to the Gujarati heart by talking about asmita and swabhimaan (pride and self-respect).
He put up a spirited defence of caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi and said post-Godhra, Gujarat was subject to a series of humiliations. Referring to the train carnage and what followed thereafter, he said: “This year, a tragic event took place on February 27. Some events took place later and I am not suggesting that they were right. But the context in which Gujarat was mentioned was that nobody should think of entering the state. The Gujarat government was insulted, it was said its police force was rotten, its officials bad. But the person who was subject to the worst ignominy was Narendra Modi. It was made out as if such an individual never existed earlier.”
Advani threw the gauntlet to the people and asked: “Is Gujarat ready to tolerate such humiliation' No, it will not.” Terming the December 12 elections a war between Gujaratis and others, he said: “The elections are very crucial because all that has been said against you and your state cannot be answered with mere words. You have been subject to too much calumny.”
Then came the final bugle: “It is Gujarat’s gaurav (pride) which has inspired me throughout my political career. I started my rath yatra (the Ram rath yatra of 1990) from Somnath. Cast your vote and resurrect Gujarat’s pride again.”
Although state leaders accused the Congress of “fomenting” terrorism by releasing “militants” in Kashmir, Advani was cautious. “The biggest problem in Jammu and Kashmir is cross-border terrorism. It will have to be tackled together by the Centre and the state government and not unilaterally,” he said.
The BJP, which won 52 of the 58 seats in Saurashtra in the last elections, is possibly facing its stiffest challenge in this region. Surprisingly, there was no mention of the water or power crisis afflicting Saurashtra nor of the low procurement price paid to cotton farmers.
The fact that there was not a single round of applause to anything he said — including his praise of Modi — indicates that there are tough times ahead for the BJP here.