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July 19, 1999
BJP mulls on how to use Kargil during the election
George Iype in New Delhi
One day after India officially announced the end of the Kargil problem, a debate is on within the Bharatiya Janata Party and the government on how to effectively utilise the 10-week long border conflict with Pakistan in the forthcoming general election.
A section of hardline leaders in the BJP, like party president Shashikant 'Kushabhau' Thakre, Home Minister L K Advani and Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, are reportedly pressing for celebrating Independence Day on August 15 as Kargil Victory Day.
Party sources disclosed that Thakre, Adavni and Joshi are eager that the BJP should publicise the government's military and diplomatic successes in Kargil as the main election issue. Advani heads the BJP's election cell.
While Defence Minister George Fernandes supports the idea of endorsing Kargil as the poll agenda, disapproval for the proposal has come from the liberal leaders in the BJP led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh.
Party leaders said the prime minister has shot down the BJP plans to name and celebrate Independence Day as Kargil Victory Day. However, Vajpayee is expected to speak extensively on the government's military and diplomatic success during his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.
"The party very much wants to declare and dedicate this year's Independence Day to the soldiers who laid down their lives fighting Pakistan in Kargil. But no formal decision has yet been taken on the proposal," a BJP official said.
He said while the party leadership has virtually decided to take up Kargil as the main poll agenda, the prime minister's insistence that the conflict with Pakistan should not be politicised during polls is likely to deter the BJP from officially endorsing the issue.
Therefore, the BJP's election and media cells are yet to decide whether print and television campaigns should be launched portraying it as the "true nationalist party" and depicting the Vajpayee regime's military success in Kargil as the true example of nationalism.
But BJP officials suggest that whether the party officially approves or not, Kargil along with the resurgence in the economy will turn out to be the biggest vote catchers in the election for two reasons.
First, the debate on Congress president Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin, which most political parties predicted would be the crucial election issue two months ago, has now subsided considerably.
Second, BJP leaders say they will be forced to take up Kargil as the crucial election issue as the Opposition parties led by the Congress are gearing up to squarely blame the Vajpayee government for the military adventure in Kashmir.
"We have no desire to use Kargil as an election issue. But we are sure that we will be compelled to defend and proclaim the government victory in Kargil if Opposition attacks us during the election campaign," a former BJP member of Parliament from Delhi told rediff.com
While it is certain that whether Vajpayee likes it or not, the BJP would try its best to keep the ongoing upsurge of nationalism burning during the election, Congress leaders are preparing for a campaign to scuttle the BJP game-plan.
"It is stupid to suggest that the battle in Kargil has tested and proved the BJP's nationalism. Credit should go to the Indian soldiers for recapturing and saving our territory from the Vajpayee government's blunders," Congress Working Committee member Ghulam Nabi Azad told rediff.com
The Congress, he said, will try its best to ensure that the BJP does not exploit its banner of nationalism.
Congress officials said the party's election and media cells are finalising a major print and television campaign against the BJP's nationalism plank and the Vajpayee government's failure to prevent the Kargil conflict.
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