New Delhi, Dec. 15: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee advised the BJP to draw “inspiration” for the next round of Assembly elections in 2003 from the sweep in Gujarat and took the Congress to task for not condemning the Godhra carnage “sufficiently”.
“Ab vijay ka parv shuru ho gaya and woh antim charan tak jayeh, yeh hume dekhna chahiye (Now the festival of victory has started and we have to see to it that it is taken to its logical conclusion). We have to start preparing for the next round of Assembly elections and take prerna (inspiration) from Gujarat,” asserted Vajpayee.
Speaking to reporters outside his residence, where the BJP’s top echelon of office-bearers and ministers met for a celebration this evening, Vajpayee said: “The Congress threatened to bring out a white paper (on Godhra) if it came to power in Gujarat. But people did not fall for the threat. In fact, it angered people.”
The BJP, he maintained, fought the Gujarat battle on the plank of the “wonderful work” its government did over five years, and not communalism.
“But our opponents overlooked the development aspect and levelled charges of communalism against us. But communalism is a double-edged weapon. Kab kisko kaatta hai, yeh maloom nahi (When it will hurt which side cannot be anticipated),” he said.
Vajpayee, who was among the first from Delhi to congratulate Narendra Modi for the party’s and his personal victory in Maninagar, was all praise for his success. He also took note of the BJP’s clean sweep of the three byelections in Rajasthan and the fact that it retained Jharkhand’s Godda Lok Sabha seat. “When trouble comes, it never comes singly. When victory comes, it doesn’t come alone,” he said.
It may be recalled that Vajpayee was among the handful in the BJP who disapproved of the handling of the post-Godhra communal violence by the Modi government and even suggested that he step down.
But Vajpayee’s proposal, sounded at the national executive in Goa last April, was rejected by the second-rung leaders, including BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu (then a Central minister) and Pramod Mahajan, who eventually had their way on Modi.
In this evening’s meeting, attended by deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, finance minister Jaswant Singh, Information and Broadcasting minister Sushma Swaraj and the central office-bearers, Vajpayee was given a region-wise break-up of the results. Around 500 partymen showed up at 7 Race Course Road, beating drums and chanting slogans.
Both the Prime Minister and his deputy are expected to attend the Gujarat swearing-in.
This morning, after the early trends established a convincing lead for the BJP, the party headquarters resonated with the sound of crackers for over two hours. Laddoos were passed around and most workers said they did not mind skipping breakfast and lunch “for the sake of Gujarat”.
Echoing the feelings of his colleagues, one of them said: “This is not an ordinary victory considering the extraordinary circumstances in which the elections took place after Godhra, Akshardham and the attack on the Raghunath temple (in Jammu).”
Advani reflected the mood at 11, Ashoka Road although his responses were cautious. Addressing an impromptu press conference, he called the victory a “lesson for the whole country” and an expression of anger against the “sustained campaign of slander” by the BJP’s opponents, who, he added, attacked the police, administration, and the chief minister for all that happened after Godhra.
“We would have got a renewed mandate, but the renewed mandate coming in this manner has a lesson for the whole country,” Advani said.
The deputy Prime Minister was defensive when asked if Hindutva was a contributory factor and argued that only the media used terms like “hard” and “soft” Hindutva. “You can draw your own analysis,” he said.
Advani claimed there was a “total disconnect” between media opinion and public opinion vis-à-vis the Gujarat polls, of which there were only two precedents — during the Emergency and the Ramjanmabhoomi movement.
Unlike the BJP, the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which played an active role in the electioneering, were on the front foot and asserted that the mandate marked a “defeat of the so-called secular parties”.
“It is a victory of the nationalist forces,” said RSS joint spokesman Ram Madhav and warned that the outcome had as much of a message for the BJP as the Congress. The BJP, he said, should keep in mind the “upsurge of nationalist feelings” in the country while drawing up its future course of action.
In Jaipur, the feisty VHP international general secretary, Praveen Togadia, was quoted by agencies as saying that the Gujarat mandate was a “turning point” in Indian history as the experiment of “Hindutva laboratory” would be repeated in Delhi via Rajasthan, referring to the BJP’s success in the byelections.