The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal goes other way as BJP goes hard

Lucknow, Dec. 24: Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke from a public platform today affirming his belief in “inclusive, sober” politics that includes people of all religions, particularly Muslims, and negating the return to hardline Hindutva the BJP marked over the past few days.

The culmination of the party’s national executive and council meetings here was a massive rally where the dominant rhetoric was the Ram temple and “minority appeasement” with BJP president Rajnath Singh being the most aggressive.

Cries of “Jai Shri Ram” reverberated in a party congregation after a long time as a public affirmation of the BJP’s bid to revive the temple movement just before the Assembly elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh.

The rally marked the beginning of the election campaign, almost certain to be divisive and anti-minorities, as indicated by the political resolution yesterday. Almost all top leaders talked about the Manmohan Singh government’s “Muslim appeasement” and iterated their commitment to building the Ram temple.

Vajpayee not only refused to even mention the Ram temple or “Muslim appeasement” in his speech, but also went a step further and reached out to the minorities, asking them to support the BJP.

“We do not want to fight elections on the basis of religion, caste or creed. Our main plank is nationalism. We want all Indians to come together and join the march towards peace and prosperity. I appeal to my Muslim brothers to support us, join us,” he said.

Vajpayee once again underlined his unique ideological position in the saffron fold that goes beyond the BJP to embrace a coalition of forces without which the party cannot hope to take power.

With Advani talking about the party’s prime ministerial candidate in a recent interview, Vajpayee’s speech raised the question if he was trying to say that only he stood above exclusive politics and was, therefore, fit to lead.

Advani, in contrast, appeared to be backpedalling. After starting to describe December 6, 1992, as the “saddest day” of his life, he ended his public address with a loud chant of “Jai Shri Ram”, “Jai Jai Shri Ram”.

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