| Vajpayee and Uma Bharti (third from left) at the women’s rally in Bhopal on Sunday. (PTI)
Bhopal, Oct. 19: Two days after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ayodhya show, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave an indication of how far his own mind was from the line followed by the militant wing of the Sangh parivar by telling the people of Madhya Pradesh to vote on development.
Vajpayee kicked off the BJP campaign by addressing a modest all-women crowd. He said there was little sense in deifying women as Durga, Saraswati and Lakshmi if society could not take care of their health, education and food.
Building on this argument, the Prime Minister spoke of his concern about incidents of rape, atrocities against women and the declining sex ratio.
A nation’s destiny is shaped by “paurush (courage) and parishram (hard work) than by merely stargazing or perpetuating superstition”, he added.
Vajpayee attacked the Digvijay Singh government for poor roads, shortage of power and a low human development index. “There should be complete focus on development-related issues. Let there be no diversion, distraction and mix-up on this count. There are other issues too but development is the biggest, more crucial and core issue.
He asked voters to weed out a regime that has recorded 128,000 rape cases during its 10-year rule.
Vajpayee’s emphasis on development stands in contrast to efforts by Sangh outfits as well as the ruling Congress to highlight emotive issues.
In Madhya Pradesh, Bhojshala — where Hindus and Muslims have practised their religions peacefully for years — is being built up as another potential Ayodhya dispute.
VHP leaders like Acharya Dharmendra and Praveen Togadia are regular visitors and the RSS is seeking to take over the BJP’s political campaign.
In the Congress camp, Digvijay’s political agenda is laced with “soft Hindutva” revolving around cow protection, cow-urine therapy and frequent visits and donations to places of worship.
In his 35-minute speech, Vajpayee referred to Digvijay’s “kunwara (bachelor) slur” and asked voters not to get trapped in superstition. In the height of summer, Digvijay had attributed the lack of rain to the Prime Minister’s bachelorhood, saying that the Gods were unhappy with “kunwara” rulers. Uma Bharti, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, is not married, too.
Vajpayee gently reminded the chief minister that President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was also a bachelor and said politicians should avoid perpetuating superstition. After Digvijay’s remark, there were good rains all over the country, the Prime Minister added.
“I have nothing against those who believe in nakshatras (movement of stars) but let’s not forget that a nation’s destiny is shaped by paurush and parishram.”
Women heard Vajpayee attentively but some were disappointed on two counts.
The Prime Minister, they said, referred to rape and the plight of victims, narrating how the Siri Fort incident had brought disrepute to the nation, but did not announce any tough measures. Second, Vajpayee kept mum on the women’s reservation bill pending before Parliament for years.
Vajpayee appealed to voters to opt for Uma Bharti but the local organisers of the meeting might have to do some explaining to the central BJP leadership.
Considering the high billing of today’s event, the turnout was hopelessly short of the crowd drawn by Sonia Gandhi at a similar all-women gathering at Indore.