In a sharp departure from the hard Hindutva line propounded by L.K. Advani through the party’s Palampur resolution on a Ram temple in 1989 and taken forward successively by several party presidents, the new Bharatiya Janata Party chief, Nitin Gadkari, signalled a departure from the so-called emotive issues to those affecting the poorest sections of society.
In his first address to the party’s National Council here after his election as party president was ratified by some 5,000 delegates on Thursday, Mr. Gadkari indicated that he was ready to fight the Congress on what it may consider its home turf — struggle for the poor and the downtrodden and take the country’s development forward.
The buzz words in his 24-page inaugural address were “antyodaya” (welfare of the poorest), “samajik samrasta” (social equality) and “vikas” (development) with social justice.
Mr. Gadkari did mention the Ram temple issue at the end of his hour-long address, only to emphasise he was doing so for “otherwise the media will write that he has skipped the issue.”
Contrary to the BJP’s routine assertion that come what may, a Ram temple will be built at the disputed spot, he preferred to “appeal to the Muslim community to be generous towards the sentiments and feelings of Hindus and facilitate the construction of a grand Ram temple.”
Although he dwelt at length on terrorism, Pakistan and Kashmir, there was no mention of the abrogation of Article 370 conferring a special status on Kashmir, and gave the line, elaborated later in the resolution on security issues, that there cannot be talks with Pakistan alongside terror attacks emanating from its soil.
He talked about the agony of the workers in the unorganised sector, called on his party men to go to the villages, highlighted plans to end farmers’ suicides, and finally indicated that the BJP could grow if it could attract 10 per cent of the poorest and most downtrodden sections of society, including Dalits.
A hard-hitting message was also reserved for party colleagues, irrespective of their position. Mr. Gadkari advised them not to encourage workers to touch their feet or do anything that lowers their dignity, while asking workers not to waste their time waiting on “leaders.” He pointed out he had become party president when he never had the habit of coming to Delhi and meeting party leaders unless he was doing so with some specific work in mind.
The party should work for the poorest, without looking at this as a vote-bank issue. He said something similar about fighting to end caste disparities, again not with an eye on electoral politics. The BJP should always be on the side of development and would not oppose good government policies simply for the sake of opposing. He mentioned that on the nuclear deal and in the run-up to the climate change conference in Copenhagen, the government had failed to build a political consensus.
And he ended his address by referring to a story of a sparrow trying to fight a fire with a few drops of water in its beak. “The sparrow may not be able to put out the fire, but at least it will be counted among those that tried to douse it,” he said. The message, it seems was for all party men to try and douse the fire of internal bickering that was hurting the party.
Immediately before Mr. Gadkari’s election as BJP president was applauded by delegates, the former president Rajnath Singh spoke at some length referring to two significant victories for the party during his tenure — the victory in Karnataka signalling the party’s entry into the south, and the second term victories in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, besides Gujarat, defying the notion that the BJP could not secure a second term in any State.