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BJP back to Hindutva
Published on 4 Apr. 2009 12:34 AM IST
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MAJOR SOPS FOR MILITARY, MIDDLE CLASS, POOR Making a determined pitch to return to power in what promises to be one of India’s toughest elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Friday unveiled major sops for the military, the middle class and the poor as it sought the popular mandate. Leading the multi-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the BJP, however, stuck to its Hindutva agenda while making it clear that nothing controversial would be thrust on its allies without whose help it cannot form a government. BJP’s prime ministerial nominee L.K. Advani told journalists at the BJP headquarters that the so-called Third Front did not stand a chance in the April-May Lok Sabha elections and that any new government would be linked either to the Congress or his party. The 48-page manifesto made no reference to the “India Shining” theme that led to the NDA’s shock defeat in 2004, propelling the Congress, which then focussed on “aam admi” (common man), to power. The BJP said it was committed to building a grand Ram temple at the site of Ayodhya’s Babri mosque that was razed in 1992 after an emotive campaign led by Advani. It vowed to work for an altered shipping channel through the Palk Strait so as not to damage the Ram Setu, which it is believed was built by Hindu god Ram. “There is an overwhelming desire of the people in India and abroad to have a grand temple at the birthplace of (Lord) Ram,” the manifesto said. “The BJP will explore all possibilities, including negotiations and judicial proceedings, to facilitate the construction of the Ram temple.” The BJP added that it remained firm on abrogating article 370 of the constitution which gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state. Advani underlined that the manifesto reflected the BJP’s thinking and he was not asking (its allies) to accept it. “We will send it to them and ask (what) they agree with and then jointly prepare a NDA agenda.” Even as it harped on Hindutva issues, it announced a string of fiscal concessions amid the current economic downslide to attract the millions of decisive poor and middle class votes. The manifesto promised that a BJP-led NDA government would provide 35 kg of rice or wheat every month at Rs.2 per kg to the poorest of the poor and waive off farm loans. The BJP said all military and paramilitary personnel would be exempted from income tax, take steps to set up a separate Pay Commission for armed forces and implement a one-rank-one-pension scheme. The party said those earning up to Rs.300,000 a year would be exempted from paying income tax, the amount going up to Rs.350,000 for women and senior citizens. And for a party that has traditionally counted on traders as its support base, it pledged a ban on foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail sector so as to help the domestic retail trade. The manifesto blamed the Congress for the socio-economic backwardness of Muslims, India’s largest religious minority, and said every Indian felt proud about “the success stories of Muslims in sports, cinema, industry and a host of other fields”. The BJP said it would promote all languages, Urdu included. Advani made no reference to the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), which last month ended its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP, but pointed out that besides the Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Janata Dal-United (JD-U), four new parties had teamed up with the BJP to fight the elections that begin April 16. He identified them as the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM). In other promises, the BJP said it would introduce: -- education and job quotas for economically backward sections other than Dalits, tribals and Other Backward Castes (OBCs). -- an improved law on the lines of the Prevention of Terrorist Activities (POTA). -- use of coercive diplomacy against countries engaging in exporting terror. -- a comprehensive National Identity Card for all Indians. The Congress dismissed the BJP manifesto as one of no consequence. Congress spokesperson Kapil Sibal told reporters: “They have a narrow agenda, narrow vision and narrow mind. This manifesto has no meaning since it is not the NDA’s manifesto.”

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