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January 3, 1998


Ayodhya, Article 370, UCC to figure in BJP manifesto

Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party is unlikely to dilute its Hindutva plank for the general election.

Contrary to its earlier stand, the party does not plan to present a common minimum programme before the poll either.

Though BJP president Lal Kishinchand Advani and prime ministerial candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee have not referred to any of the contentious issues -- a Ram temple at Ayodhya, withdrawal of Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir and a Uniform Civil Code -- in any official statements, it is learnt that the party fears antagonising its cadres and committed voters who have brought it to the porch of power, riding the crest of an anti-Muslim Hindutva wave.

Advani's statement in Tirupati on December 29 that the BJP manifesto would include all the contentious issues indicates that the party is not ready to soften its outlook.

"Advani may have got some feedback that the cadres are unhappy with the party's stand after the national executive in Bhubaneswar. After all, it was the Ayodhya issue that fetched us six MPs in Karnataka," a senior party official told Rediff On The NeT.

At the height of the Ayodhya campaign, the BJP's share of the vote in Karnataka rose from a mere 3% in the 1989 general election to 29% in 1991; it fell to 24.91% in 1996. BJP leaders in south India are worried because they know the party needs more partners to expand significantly, but at the same time they do not want the cadres to feel uncomfortable.

Even before its 15-member manifesto committee was constituted, the BJP organised brainstorming sessions with key industrialists and intellectuals to gauge the public mood. Kewal R Malkani, the BJP vice-president and a member of the manifesto committee, told Rediff On The NeT that the committee is yet to meet, "but obviously Ayodhya, Article 370 and the UCC will be in the manifesto."

Jagdish Shettigar, national executive member and the convener of the party's economic cell, met businessmen and intellectuals in Bombay to obtain their suggestions on prospective economic policies which could be included in the party manifesto.

Shettigar told Rediff On The NeT that he "had a meeting with Merchants Chamber representatives and people from the automobile, mining, sugar and textiles industries. Intellectuals, professionals and ordinary investors wanted us to ensure some sort of protection against multinationals. Most of the people with whom I spoke expressed concern that the party is dumping the BJP agenda."

Such reports may have compelled the party to take a tough posture against the Samata Party's misgivings on including the three contentious issues in the BJP manifesto. After its national executive meeting, the Samata Party said it would not jointly campaign with the BJP unless the party issued a common minimum programme before the election.

Though Vajpayee had referred to a CMP when he addressed the media after the national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar on December 21, the BJP may not be swayed too much by the Samata Party's demand.

The Samata Party wants all the 22 Lok Sabha seats it contested from Bihar in the 1996 election plus two more seats in the state. Samata chief George Fernandes's repeated demands for a CMP and the dropping of the contentious issues from the BJP manifesto are seen as an effort to armtwist Advani and Co into granting his party all the seats it wants.

BJP to reserve 5 % seats for minorities

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