The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP babel, made to order

New Delhi, Dec. 24: Venkaiah Naidu speaks of replicating the Gujarat “experience” across the country, Praveen Togadia vows to do the same with the Gujarat “experiment”.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee says Hindutva is a way of life and cannot be an election slogan for the BJP. Lal Krishna Advani tells those who talk “derisively” of Hindutva to take a lesson from the Gujarat election result.

Are they speaking in different voices: BJP president Naidu and VHP leader Togadia; Prime Minister Vajpayee and deputy Advani'

Yes. But the differences are a perfect fit for each other. Vajpayee’s moderation and Advani’s apparent shrillness. Naidu’s emphasis on the “experience” of all Sangh parivar outfits working together to wrest victory for Narendra Modi, and Togadia’s communally divisive “experiment” in Gujarat.

On the last day of the BJP’s national executive meeting today, Vajpayee was his usual moderate self, chiding those who talk of turning India into a Hindu rashtra in two years.

He set out the party’s objective clearly: “To carry all sections of our diverse society with us. This is not a game of winning a few more seats or winning the elections in this or that state. The party must always be guided by the lofty goal for whose attainment we plunged into electoral politics.”

He attributed the Gujarat victory to “the many decades of tapasya of our workers and the good work done by our governments”.

Advani dwelt more on the “protest” vote against “Hindu bashing” that catapulted Modi to power. “It is, however, the campaign of calumny and hatred unleashed by our adversaries in the wake of Godhra and its aftermath… which made the Gujarat electorate really angry and which has given us this landslide victory,” he said.

Striking a strident tone, Advani said he did not know if the party’s opponents understood this. “At least from the reactions we have been hearing after the results, it does not appear so… ‘źou have won because of Hindutva’: that’s the common refrain. Let them realise that if they continue to talk derisively about Hindutva thus, it will continue to cost them dearly.”

Vajpayee began his address by likening the Gujarat victory to “samudra manthan”. He said when the ocean was churning everyone wanted to drink “amrit” and Shiva had to swallow the poison, but did not die. “We have the capacity to swallow poison.”

Observers expected the apparent differences within the Sangh parivar and even within the BJP to continue as before. Not necessarily working at cross-purposes but possibly catering to different audiences. Vajpayee for one section, Advani for another and Togadia for still another.

The next test for the BJP is in the Himachal Pradesh elections, where communal polarisation is not possible because of the small minority population. It appears that the campaign focus will be on “governance”.

But much of the overall strategy springs from the Gujarat experience or experiment:

n End factionalism (Keshubhai Patel and Narendra Modi buried the hatchet);

n All Sangh parivar outfits work together (as in Gujarat);

n Harp on cultural nationalism;

n Market national security, fight against terrorism;

n Development.

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