The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP backs Atal’s dozen, reads poll pulse

New Delhi, Oct. 23: The BJP today welcomed the Prime Minister’s latest peace initiative, describing it as one of “far-reaching significance”.

Addressing the press, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “It is our understanding that the proposals of yesterday are consistent with the already announced government policy. A number of steps had already been taken. Some of these steps were pending for some time and it was decided to announce a set of proposals together.”

Naidu clarified the package would neither compromise nor dilute the Centre’s stand that Jammu and Kashmir is an “integral and inalienable part of India” or detract from the “war against terrorism”.

“Ultimately, the most critical issue in India-Pakistan relations is the issue of cross-border terrorism. The government has made it clear that India’s war against terrorism will continue and there will be no let-up in dealing with terrorists who infiltrate into India,” he said.

The BJP was of the “firm opinion that no meaningful, productive and sustained dialogue can take place with Pakistan as long as they carry on with cross-border terrorism. A dialogue with Pakistan would be possible only when evidence can be seen on the ground to show that cross-border terrorism has come to an end”, Naidu added.

Privately, the BJP was still trying to size up whether yesterday’s development would affect the Assembly elections in November-December. BJP sources said their assessment, as of now, was that the elections would be fought entirely on local issues and not national ones.

“We are sure the Prime Minister must have taken this factor into account before he announced the proposals,” a source said, adding that a “proper view” could be formulated only after a couple of weeks, depending on Islamabad’s response. “Either way, neither we nor the government stand to lose because it was (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee who took the initiative, because he is one of the few leaders of stature we have who can afford to take such crucial decisions whose outcome is uncertain,” the source added.

“In the past, he weathered the adverse fallout of his Lahore yatra with the help of the Kargil victory and we won the last Lok Sabha elections. This time, too, he has thrown the ball in Pakistan’s court. If it does not react favourably, world opinion will be on India’s side and Pakistan will remain isolated.”

Naidu used the occasion to project Vajpayee as a “man of peace”. “He has taken several bold and imaginative steps to improve India’s relations with many countries. Pakistan should not mistake this as a sign of weakness. These proposals show the Prime Minister’s visionary leadership and commitment to a South Asia marching ahead together,” he said.

“As a democratically elected leader, it is only natural that the concerns and welfare of the people are uppermost in his mind,” Naidu added.

The BJP was confident that neither the RSS nor the VHP would make much noise over this round of the peace initiative. RSS sources endorsed the claim: “There is a large non-RSS constituency among Hindus which has backed the Prime Minister’s move to normalise relations with Pakistan. We cannot ignore this constituency because they include influential opinion-makers.”

“The proposals themselves are okay,” an RSS source added. “How far they work out would depend on Pakistan’s response, which is not enthusiastic.”

The RSS believes a prime reason for Islamabad’s lukewarm response was “the package would benefit the people of Karachi more than the entrenched Punjabi establishment, so the latter has smelt a rat”.

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