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God is one, PM tells Vadodara residents

Amberish K Diwanji in Vadodara | December 07, 2002 22:20 IST

Harshad Talati must be a disappointed man. The 32-year-old had come down from quite a distance to hear Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee speak on the Hindutva agenda on his first public rally in Gujarat. "Little else really matters in this election. I want to hear his agenda in implementing Hindutva in the state and at the Centre," he said.

However, neither the prime minister, nor caretaker Chief Minister Narendra Modi, arguably the greatest votary of Hindutva today, touched upon either the G word [Godhra] or the H word [Hindutva].

They addressed a crowd of around 100,000 on the ground of the Maharaja Khanderao Coronation Club, popularly known as Polo Club. As the name suggests, decades ago polo was played here, though cricket has replaced it now.

People stood on terraces and verandahs of the buildings that surround the ground to hear the prime minister.

As expected the prime minister came out in full support of Modi and said there should be no dispute over religion.

"God is one, but the ways of prayer can be different. In our country there is equal respect for all religions. There is no compulsion. Each one is free to follow his faith.

"There can be debate, but there should be no dispute over religion that divides the society," he said.

Charging the Congress with failure on all fronts, Vajpayee said the party had got many opportunities.

He said it was the National Democratic Alliance government that decided to test a nuclear bomb. "The Congress wanted to do it, but could not. We do what we say and say what we do," he said.

He said the Congress had also neglected the issue of inter-linking of rivers, which the government had taken up.

Pointing out that "harsh words" were common during electioneering, he said, "The bitterness should end with the polls."

The prime minister asserted that the NDA government was determined to make the country "invincible, progressive and prosperous".

"We want to make India an advanced country whose basis will be age-old traditions," Vajpayee said.

He said the state had achieved a literacy rate of 70 per cent, higher than the national average of 65 per cent. "But 70 per cent is not enough. Every child should be able to study. Why can't we make our country fully literate?"

Birth and death rates in Gujarat were lower than other states due to good medicare facilities, he said, adding unemployment had declined because of growing job opportunities.

He said the country had progressed in several fronts, including IT, science and technology and highway construction. "We have to make India a country free from disease and illiteracy."

Asking the people to return the BJP to power, Vajpayee said this would ensure better coordination between the Centre and the state. "You should not elect a government that will keep on quarrelling with the Centre instead of working for the development of the state," he said pointing out the Centre's assistance to Gujarat during the devastating earthquake and later the drought.

Exhorting the people to exercise their franchise without fail, he said, "You should not sit at home, as every vote has got its value and importance."

In this context, the prime minister narrated the story of a king who had asked his people to fill a tank with milk. The next day he found that it had been filled only with water, as each person had thought that the others would pour milk.

He said with the people's support, the BJP's strength in Lok Sabha had increased and the party had spread across the country.

Regarding the Kashmir issue, Vajpayee said a way out of the problem was emerging. Referring to the just concluded assembly election in the state, he said though Pakistan had warned that those casting ballots would face bullets, the people of the state displayed exemplary courage and participated in the polls. "If anybody wants to know the importance of votes, ask the people of J&K."

Referring to his Independence Day address promising free and impartial elections in J&K, the prime minister said, "People had laughed at it, questioning how it was possible. But we have done it."

"Our neighbour does not want us to live in peace and concentrate on developmental activities," he said. But the Indian security forces were protecting the nation like "Ram and Lakshman had protected saints from the demons... We have to keep awake and remain vigilant".

Though the prime minister spoke eloquently for around 30 minutes, his speech was akin to hearing the party's report card, and thus lacklustre. There was no deafening applause. The crowd heard Vajpayee with rapt attention and in silence, broken twice by a weak applause. He later left for Jamnagar to attend another rally.

Earlier, Modi spoke and his speech was more remarkable for what it did not cover. He did not speak about Pakistan or terrorism, of the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and the need to protect Hindus. On the contrary, he dwelt purely on economic issues.

He thanked the prime minister for sanctioning a railway line up to Somnath, a famous temple town in southern Saurashtra, and for restarting a defunct railway line. He hailed Vajpayee for allowing the completion of the Narmada dam project, which allowed water to reach the parched regions of the state.

The caretaker chief minister also praised Vajpayee for increasing the royalty on crude produced by the state, which resulted in an earning of Rs4 billion per annum.

He said despite the calamities suffered by Gujarat -– earthquake, cyclone, and riots -- the people were prosperous whereas in neighbouring Rajasthan, ruled by a Congress government, drought stricken people were eating grass to survive.

Despite the subdued tone, the audience treated Modi to a loud applause. His brief speech, about 15 to 20 minutes, had the crowd rooting for more, but he left even before the prime minister began, saying he had to go to Jamnagar to receive Vajpayee.

Incidentally, residents of Vadodara said the prime minister's speech was along expected lines.

"To be honest, we expected the prime minister to say exactly what he said. It was not any surprise," said Dasadia.

"Modi did not dwell on the issue of Hindutva and spoke only about economic aspects as a mark of respect for the prime minister. After all, everyone knows that the prime minister is not too happy with the recent events and the Hindutva upsurge," he said.

Dasadia said he would vote for the BJP. "The Congress keeps talking about rising prices. But have they said they will reduce the prices? And in the Congress-ruled states, prices are also very high. So what is the point they are trying to make?" he asked.

The Vadodara region has so far been a Congress citadel. The party held nine seats in the outgoing assembly, with the remaining four being with the BJP. But with the latter trying hard to create a Hindutva wave in the region, the contest has acquired an extra edge, which is why both Vajpayee and Gandhi have campaigned here.

With inputs from PTI

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