The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM poll kick-off with peace plea
- Campaign focus on tolerance, progress

Vadodara, Dec. 7: Joining the Gujarat campaign with three days left for electioneering to end, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee took a radically different posture than the communally divisive one being taken by his party in the state. He argued for religious tolerance and urged people not to get into religious or other disputes that threatened the nation’s unity.

His approach was of attempting to calm divisive passions and point people towards the tasks ahead if India wanted to proceed on the road to economic growth. Progress requires an atmosphere of tolerance and peace, he said.

Vajpayee warned against disputes over religion and expressed happiness that after the incidents of communal violence, Gujarat was now peaceful. He even said he could sense a “spirit of cooperation” among the people.

He spent considerable time talking about development but interspersed his address with appeals for tolerance. “God is one but there are many paths to reach Him. We believe in sarva dharma sambhaav. There can be no compulsion (about which path to choose). Everyone is free to choose his own path to God,” Vajpayee told the crowd.

He appealed to the people to vote the BJP back into power so that there was better coordination between the Centre and the state government.

“I don’t think anyone needs to speak after Narendrabhai’s speech. But I am his advocate and it is my duty to hold a brief for him,” Vajpayee had said at the start of his speech. He mildly rebuked chief minister Narendra Modi for leaving the meeting before he could speak. “He doesn’t want to listen to his advocate,” he said, adds PTI.

Vajpayee was careful not to use aggressive language against other parties. While “harsh language” was common during campaigns, the bitterness must end with the poll, he said.

Without naming Pakistan, Vajpayee said while India wanted to move ahead on the path of development by removing poverty, educating its masses and creating jobs, its neighbour wanted to create hindrances in its path.

“There is only one neighbour which tries to disturb peace in this country. In olden days also, when the rishis were busy meditating and praying, the demons used to disturb them. Ram and Lakshman protected them. Our Ram and Lakshman are the armed forces which are doing the same job,” he obliquely advised those in his party who have talked of giving arms training to youngsters and arms to villagers in border areas.

Vajpayee castigated the successive Congress governments at the Centre for not inter-linking rivers, as a result of which there has been drought in the country whenever the rains failed.

He recounted the achievements of the BJP government in Gujarat by citing statistics to show that literacy had gone up, the rural population below the poverty line had shrunk and the birth and death rates had fallen.

Although unemployment was still high in Gujarat, this was the case in the rest of India too, Vajpayee said. But the BJP wanted to change all this, he asserted. The Prime Minister cited the Golden Quadrilateral project and other highways being built in the country to generate employment and increase linkages between markets.

He said liberalisation was not hurting people but making their lives better. “The IT sector alone has provided 10 lakh jobs to youngsters. Housing loan rates have come down and people can look forward to building their homes with less economic burden,” he reminded the audience.

Vajpayee said his party wanted to build a “prosperous and peaceful” India. He told people to do their duty of voting for the party on December 12 and not sit at home. He reminded people of the king who wanted to fill a tank with milk and asked every citizen to put in a glassful. Everyone cheated thinking others would do their duty and the tank was filled with water instead.

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