The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong blips bright on Atal election radar

New Delhi, Feb. 6: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today took the battle for the 14th Lok Sabha straight to the BJP’s heart, asking party leaders and cadre to ensure he returned with a “clear majority” to complete the “unfinished” tasks of his government.

Kicking off the BJP’s poll campaign at “Atal Sandesh Adhiveshan”, a session to convey his message, Vajpayee sounded more circumspect than party colleagues who seemed to be on a high on the “feel-good factor”.

Less dismissive of the Congress than some of them, he spent a good part of his address at Ambedkar stadium attacking the embryonic Congress-led “secular” coalition and Congress rule since Independence. Political instinct told him the alternative coalition Sonia Gandhi was trying to sew up was not the write-off the BJP and the NDA thought it was.

“The Congress always played immoral political games. In 1979, it first promised to support Chaudhary Charan Singh (after the Janata Party experiment collapsed) and then deceived him. Later, there were more non-Congress governments supported by the Congress from outside.

“But it cheated all of them — Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral — after letting them believe they had its backing. Are promises so hollow in politics' Is there no place for morality'” he asked.

If the efforts of BJP strategists like Pramod Mahajan were to limit the scope of the Congress’ alliances and spirit away smaller parties it was wooing, Vajpayee’s objective seemed to be to create doubts in their minds about the Congress’ commitment to policies, regional sentiment, democratic leadership and stability.

“Those who criticised coalitions and picked fault with coalition politics now talk of a maha (grand) coalition. I don’t know whether it will materialise or not. But efforts are on, meetings have taken place, lunches and dinners have been hosted. But how can our non-Congress friends think of an alliance with a party which brought down their governments'” he asked.

Referring to the five-and-a-half-year NDA coalition he had headed, he said: “In spite of ideological differences, our partners trusted us because we struck a balance between national unity and regional aspirations. We have an agenda, workers and people’s trust.”

The Congress, in contrast, was bereft of these attributes, he said. “How do they propose to resolve serious national problems'”

Vajpayee attacked the Congress on other scores too: its leadership — without naming Sonia — and its claim to be the “natural party of governance”.

“Venkaiah Naidu rightly said in our party workers metamorphose into leaders and leaders behave like ordinary workers. Leaders are not born in our party,” he remarked, in a crack at the Congress’ penchant for “dynasty”.

“Everybody has to slog equally. Nobody can shirk his responsibility. That’s what makes the BJP different.”

On the “stability” claim, Vajpayee’s take was: “There were historical reasons why the Congress used to get a majority. Today of course it has disintegrated. It cannot even come to power in states. But even though its strength has dwindled, it is not penitent.

“(The) Congress is so arrogant it thinks no one else can run a government. This myth has to be shattered, its pride has to be broken into pieces. How was the country functioning before the Congress came into being' How does the country function when Congress is in Opposition'”

Claiming the country was “running better than ever before”, Vajpayee alleged that the problems and challenges his government had to grapple with were bequeathed by the Congress.

“We succeeded in changing the face of Jammu and Kashmir. (This was the) First time elections were properly held. People had lost their faith in the electoral process but we were determined to restore it. The world was surprised by the outcome. If international opinion on India changed, it was because of J&K polls. Still the problem has not been entirely resolved. So who will do it' Those who created the mess'”

Another sector Vajpayee said the Congress was “incapable” of tackling was population. “Congress is too scared to mention family planning. It’s as if it has been stung by a scorpion. Because of the coercive methods it adopted (during Emergency), family planning was opposed by people. Not because they were against the idea per se.”

Other “incomplete” tasks he had to finish were river connectivity, settling the Indo-China border problem and weeding out corruption, he said.

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