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BJP moulds NDA in its own image

The unexpected step shows that the BJP is now feeling confident enough to try to mould the NDA in its own image.
PTI | By Amulya Ganguli
UPDATED ON APR 12, 2004 06:53 PM IST

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sprung a surprise. It has followed up the omission of the issues of scrapping Article 370 of the Indian constitution and introducing a uniform civil code from its Vision Document by including the even more contentious Ayodhya temple-mosque issue in the election manifesto of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The unexpected step shows that the BJP is now feeling confident enough to try to mould the NDA in its own image.

When the NDA was first constituted in the aftermath of the collapse of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1996 because of lack of support from the other 'secular' non-Congress and non-communist parties in parliament, the BJP had promised to freeze the issues of the temple, Article 370 and the uniform civil code. It was this concession to its potential allies that enabled it to stitch together a 24-member coalition and win the 1999 elections.

But its latest decision to unfreeze the temple issue means that it is now quite sure that its 'secular' allies in the NDA like the 'socialists' of the Samata Party and the Janata Dal (United) and the Congress-minded malcontents of the Trinamool Congress can be persuaded to accept this new position.

The BJP's opponents like the Congress and the Communists are bound to claim that the inclusion of Ayodhya in the NDA manifesto has revealed the BJP's so-called hidden agenda. But how capably they will be able to exploit this issue in their present somewhat disorganised state remains to be seen.

In its Vision Document, that was released a few days ago, the BJP dropped any direct reference to Article 370 and the uniform civil code although the party did promise to build the temple. In relation to Article 370, it merely referred to the presence of such 'transient' and 'temporary' provisions in the constitution, while it saw the uniform civil code only as a measure to ensure gender equality and not as a step intended to deprive of the Muslims of their 'personal' laws, which has been the general attitude of the BJP and the hardliners in the RSS-led Sangh Parivar.

These notable exclusions in the Vision Document were seen to be in conformity with the BJP's current moderate approach, as has been evident in its appeals to the Muslims to support the party and its peace overtures to Pakistan. But like the old Leninist doctrine of 'one step forward, two steps back', the BJP has now included perhaps the most controversial of these items - the temple - in the NDA's manifesto.

That the step was in the offing was evident when the NDA's convener, Defence Minister George Fernandes, a former member of the Socialist International, told the media a few days ago that the temple issue might be included in the coalition's manifesto. The inclusion is in words to which not many people are likely to object. It merely reiterates the BJP's known position that the temple imbroglio should be resolved either through negotiations between the Hindu and Muslim communities or via a judicial verdict, which everyone has to obey. The dispute is currently pending before court.

However, the fact that the issue has been mentioned at all denotes a change in the intra-NDA relations. It is possible that the present belief that the BJP and the NDA are heading for a win, and that, too, because of Vajpayee's personal popularity, has emboldened the BJP to bring the issue of the temple out of the cold storage.

By this move, the BJP may also be able to pacify the hawks in its ranks and in the Sangh Parivar who may have been displeased by the party's latest show of moderation. A few NDA constituents like the Telugu Desam Party may raise mild objections because of their dependence on Muslim votes. But they are unlikely to cause any major trouble, knowing that they have to sink or swim with the BJP.

In a way, therefore, the earlier claim of some of the allies, including Fernandes, that they have been able to persuade the BJP to soften its stance can now be countered by the BJP with the assertion that it has been able to make them accept a contentious issue.

The promise made in the manifesto that the NDA will bring a law to bar people of foreign origin to hold high positions is obviously aimed at Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Since a move of this nature will require a constitution amendment, the BJP could not bring the matter up during the last five years because the NDA doesn't have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Now the BJP probably hopes that it will be able to achieve this with the help of allies like the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J.Jayalalitha, who has been extremely critical recently of her formerly ally, Sonia Gandhi.

Several parties, which are now with the Congress like Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party, may also support the measure. The party recently split on the issue although it was formed on the basis of Sonia Gandhi's 'unsuitability' to be prime minister, but there are still sections within it that are uneasy about her. Besides, the Indian middle and upper classes are believed to be against a 'foreigner' becoming prime minister. The NDA's promise in the manifesto is bound to appeal to them.

(Indo-Asian News Service)

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