The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Iraq war, manifesto on BJP’s Indore agenda

New Delhi, April 3: The BJP national executive, beginning tomorrow in Indore, is expected to discuss a likely stronger stand on the Iraq war than the Centre’s and a separate manifesto for the next general election.

The two-day session is also expected to adopt a political resolution that will showcase the “achievements” of the NDA government in a bid to set the tone for the 2004 elections.

The BJP contested the 1999 polls on the NDA’s agenda of governance that left out contentious issues such as the Ayodhya temple, common civil code and abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

But as the Centre’s five-year tenure draws to a close, BJP sources said there was growing pressure from the cadre for a clear directive on whether the leadership would “de-ideologise” the manifesto and go along with the NDA allies, or return to Hindutva moorings.

A section of the party felt that if the BJP had to win 300 seats, it had no option but to be frank on issues such as the Ram temple, cow-slaughter ban and Article 370.

“Only a separate manifesto can ensure that we make a promise of bringing in a legislation to hand over the undisputed land in Ayodhya to the VHP trust,” sources said.

Silence, sources feared, might be construed as the BJP’s “soft pedalling” by the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, rather than a fallout of the responsibility of heading a coalition.

BJP strategists rationalised that in the run-up to the polls, getting the support of Sangh foot-soldiers was “more important” than keeping “secular” factions of the Janata parivar together. This was possible only by being “frank” about Hindutva.

The national executive is expected to assess the likely cost of releasing a separate manifesto in terms of losing out “key” allies such as the Telugu Desam Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

A final decision will depend on the results in the four states which go to polls in November, sources said.

The BJP is experimenting with Hindutva in varying doses in poll-bound Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. But sources are unwilling to say what impact the move has already had.

The Indore meeting will debate the merits and demerits of expounding a stronger anti-US stand on the Iraq war than that taken by the Centre till now.

A meeting of BJP general secretaries, called last week by party president M. Venkaiah Naidu, felt while the Centre may have its limitations on a sensitive foreign policy issue, the BJP could express a viewpoint “closer to what people thought of the war against Iraq”.

Though a resolution was drafted, sources said there was a rethink on the likely embarrassment to the Centre caused by such a statement.

So it was proposed that instead of a separate resolution, the BJP’s views could be incorporated in a larger political resolution or in Naidu’s presidential address tomorrow.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his deputy, L.K. Advani, will address the executive on the second day.

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