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BJP works on facelift before soul-search

Mumbai, June 16: Before the polls, the introspection. Before the introspection, the practical lessons.

The BJP, which has been at the receiving end of some sticky press, beginning with the Tehelka scam, the recent transfer-for-cash scandal and the latest two-leader controversy, has just concluded a “hard and practical” workshop for its media men.

At the workshop, held just before the party’s chintan baithak begins tomorrow, 60 spokespersons from 20 states were given lessons on how to face the media: talk straight and confidently before television cameras and keep track of comments to the print media. The basic message was: be very careful.

The workshop was attended by party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu — the man who had kicked off the leadership controversy by naming Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani as the BJP’s twin mascots for the polls. Senior leader Pramod Mahajan was one of those who spoke to the delegates.

A BJP leader said those handling the media were given “practical” lessons on how to write news, prepare press notes and make announcements. “It was basically a training session to counter the Congress party’s attacks,” he said. “(It was) Very helpful,” he added.

If the workshop laid the groundwork for the media handlers for the coming Assembly polls and next year’s general election, the chintan baithak will focus on “issues” and “not solutions”, said BJP spokesman Prakash Jawdekar.

From Vajpayee, his deputy Advani, to general secretaries and chief ministers of the three party-ruled states, the 27 leaders who will be camping here at Uttan from June 17 to 20 will focus on deliberations and not resolutions.

Jawdekar said there will be no “time-bound topics to be thrashed (out) within a specific time” and that even one issue might end up being a marathon session. “Yeh nirnaya ki shivir nahi, charcha ki hai (This will not be a forum for decisions, it will be one for deliberations),” he added.

The session will be coordinated, perhaps even synchronised, by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. RSS joint general secretary Madan Das Devi will be there to keep an eye on the proceedings and ensure that the BJP does not stray too much from the path envisaged by the Sangh.

But one thing that the BJP will be sorting out is its strategy for the polls. Sources said the session would concentrate on ideology, as Narendra Modi’s brand of Hindutva is no longer finding favour with the people.

The baithak would also deliberate on whether it would be prudent to juggle dates of Assembly and general elections so that they can be held simultaneously.

The session, sources said, would deliberate on the timing of the five Assembly elections this year and the possibility of next year’s general election being brought forward to November to coincide with the state polls.

While they are at it, the BJP leaders would also be looking into the political fallout of sending Indian troops to Iraq, the Ayodhya tangle and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s increasing belligerence.

The self-analysis session, which will kick off with an introductory note from Mahajan at lunch, will end with Naidu briefing the press at dinner on June 20. However, the BJP has decided to keep the media at arm’s length during these four days.

“You must understand, the media has been quite overwhelming in these past few days,” a party spokesman said, referring to the storm unleas-hed by Naidu’s two-leader theory. “We want a quieter introspection.”

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