New Delhi: When senior BJP leader LK Advani addressed the party's national executive meeting yesterday, he focused on offering tips to party cadres on how to effectively attack opponents on issues like corruption. But in a written message circulated among party men at the end of the conclave, he also touched upon two other key issues - the need to win more allies by "re-projecting the party's commitment to secularism" and to transform the NDA into 'NDA Plus'.
"A correct assessment of the political situation in the country is that the Congress is getting completely isolated. The anti-Congress constituency is rapidly expanding. The challenge before us is to ensure that the NDA platform expands commensurately," he said in his message.
The veteran leader suggested that to transform the NDA into a "more robust and larger" NDA Plus alliance, the party must reassure its potential allies that they need not be apprehensive about partnering with the BJP. For this, he said, the BJP needs "imaginative re-projection of our commitment to secularism."
"We should, with full conviction, reassure our brethren belonging to the minority communities that we brook no discrimination or injustice in dealing with different sections of our diverse society," his message read.
The senior leader then, in his message, referred to and strongly condemned a controversial anti-Islam film that has set off protests across the Muslim world in recent weeks. "I would like to refer to an important issue that is agitating the minds of Muslims in India and elsewhere.... A controversial film on Islam, which is highly derogatory to Prophet Mohammed, is circulating on the Internet. I strongly condemn it. It is against our ethos to accept defamation of prophets and saints, who are revered by any faith," he said. Interestingly, Mr Advani did not read out this part of the written text in his speech, just like BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who skipped it in his inaugural address at the meeting.
Mr Advani's remarks are being seen as a desperate bid to woo parties that enjoy minority support and have shunned the BJP.
On Friday, when Mr Advani addressed the meet, he offered the out-of- power cadres of his party some tips for success. It was less speech and more counseling session as he said: "Be clean yourself, so you can attack opponents on corruption; be united, do not speak in multiple voices, and, the BJP needs to be not an opposition party but a credible alternative."
Mr Advani's worry is that while the Congress, he says, is declining, the BJP is not benefitting. He has already nudged the party in the direction of a "positive campaign" to replace the shrill rant on corruption and few wasted Parliament sessions that have brought no gains for the party. Party president Nitin Gadkari took that cue and said on Thursday, "Let's not be known as the party of opposition. Let us be known as a party of good governance." In his message, Mr Advani further suggested that the BJP should begin to prepare the basis of the "common national commitment to good governance - of tomorrow's NDA Plus."
Mr Advani said yesterday that in an "anti-Congress sentiment and public anger", he saw a space that the BJP must fill. But to effectively attack opponents on issues like corruption, he said, the party could not spare its own when they were at fault. "We should be equally tough on corruption in our own governments, as tough as we are on our opponents," Mr Advani said.
He also asked party workers to be prepared for elections before 2014, when the term of the Manmohan Singh government is scheduled to end. So sure was he, he said, that the Congress-led UPA government would implode, with difficult allies pulling it down, that he wanted the BJP to even start thinking of finalising its candidates for the Lok Sabha elections. "Ten days back if someone would have asked me whether the government will fall, I would say, government is in ICU, on ventilator and the ventilator was not likely to be removed before 2014. But now, some of the allies are feeling that sooner the government falls it's better. Today, it seems almost certain.., it may happen that the government will fall in a year's time," he said.
Mr Advani has drawn that conclusion from events of the last two weeks. Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress walked out of the UPA last week to protest against new reforms like a diesel price hike, a cap of subsidised LPG and allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail. All of this week, an NCP crisis in Mumbai has kept the UPA on tenterhooks. Then, at a meeting of its coordination committee of allies on Thursday, the DMK, now the Congress' largest ally in government, was openly critical of the recent reform measures. The NCP, which is headed by Sharad Pawar, sought that a cap of six subsidized cooking gas cylinders for a family, be reconsidered. Even Mulayam Singh Yadav, who rescued the UPA government by reaffirming his party's external support to the government last week - he said it was to keep out the BJP - has made it clear that he cannot support the decision on FDI in retail.
Mr Advani's influence is also apparent in the party now deciding to go all guns blazing on the issue of FDI in retail. It had so far gone slow on the senior leader's suggestion that the government be attacked on the issue and a special session of Parliament be demanded to discuss it. On Thursday, the pro-reform right wing party took a left turn and spelt out its intent to make it an anti-aam aadmi issue. At the heart of that is the danger of the Congress staging a political come-back if its "reforms are back" agenda clicks. The Advani session would also serve to highlight a saffron dilemma. Is the 85 year-old slipping into a mentor's role or is he still a contender to be the face of the party in the next general elections? The BJP's parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is improving its grip on the BJP. On Thursday the party cleared a change in its rules to ensure that Nitin Gadkari will be party president for a second term and so in 2014 when elections are held. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi is clearly the RSS' pick as the face of tomorrow. But Mr Advani continues to have a hold on the BJP. How the Sangh Parivar deals with the relevance of Mr Advani could well decide the BJP's fate.
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