The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal to canvass in Gujarat, uninvited

New Delhi, Nov. 20: Overcoming misgivings of its Gujarat unit, the BJP has decided to deploy the Prime Minister — once the party’s sole poll mascot — as well as his deputy for the state election campaign that is expected to steer clear of overt references to combustible issues like Godhra.

However, with Narendra Modi and his supporters sending a clear signal that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani would have to go easy on secularism, the central leadership was forced to induct two other planks — terrorism and pseudo-secularism.

Development and the achievement of the BJP government in Gujarat will be part of the official campaign slogans but Hindutva will lurk in the background.

Vajpayee is expected to address four meetings in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot, while Advani will do so from every district headquarters.

Vajpayee’s statement last week endorsing the ban on the VHP’s Godhra yatra, BJP sources conceded, had ignited a groundswell of protest from the state unit.

A suggestion also came from Gujarat that if this was the “line” the central leaders would adopt, they might as well keep away from the state.

A senior Cabinet minister associated with campaign management confirmed that there was a proposal from the Gujarat BJP against sending central ministers to ensure that “messages” to the voters are not diluted.

“In the rural areas, James Michael Lyngdoh (the chief election commissioner) and Sonia Gandhi have been projected as the villains of the political game. If we are forced to keep quiet on Lyngdoh, what message is it going to send'” asked a Union minister from Gujarat.

After a brainstorming session of a core group of party strategists — which included M. Venkaiah Naidu, Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley — it was decided that the campaign would not stray from Hindutva even if the rhetoric had to be toned down.

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