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March 18, 1998

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Allies gain, BJP loses in agenda

Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

On the eve of the 13-party coalition led by the Bharatiya Janata Party assuming charge of the government, the saffron brigade has made a huge climbdown from its Hindutva agenda.

The party has jettisoned all the contentious issues, including Hindutva, and incorporated most of its allies's demands in the alliance's national agenda for governance.

Though the allies have extracted their pound of flesh from the BJP, prime minister-designate Atal Bihari Vajpayee was at a loss when asked to spell out at least two areas where the allies made a compromise to the BJP.

Giving one of his rare English speeches to the media, Vajpayee today tried in vain to play down his party's compromises. He was obviously in discomfort whenever his attention was drawn to the party's well-known stand and the present climbdown.

In fact, Vajpayee had to clarify during the media conference that the Minorities Commission would remain, which is an instance of major reversal of policy on the BJP's part. The party had all along been calling for the replacement of the Commission with the National Human Rights Commission.

Another climbdown for the BJP is the exclusion of Vidarbha from the list of states which would be carved out of the existing states. Though the agenda talks about the creation of Uttaranchal, Vananchal and Chhatisgarh states, it is silent on Vidarbha. Not surprising, since the Shiv Sena, its dominant ally in Maharashtra, has always opposed the demand for a separate Vidarbha state.

However, most of the BJP's nationalist economic policies have been included in the agenda, thanks to Samata Party president George Fernandes.

All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalitha is the gainer in the agenda, with most of her six-point demand conceded, although not in so many words.

"Though she has not made any specific demand, there will be a package for Tamil Nadu,'' said Vajpayee. ''But this is not the time to unwrap the package."

Admitting that there would be special packages for West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, Vajpayee did not mention any time-frame for their implementation. ''They would be released soon.''

The details of the special packages announced by Vajpayee would be worked out later by a co-ordination committee. However, Vajpayee did not disclose any details regarding the constitution of the committee.

Sources said the assurances given today were more of an exercise in soothing the allies's ruffled feathers.

Jayalalitha's demands were: implementation of the Cauvery water tribunal's award, nationalisation of all rivers, constitutional protection for 69 per cent reservations, right to states to fix the quota of reservation as they deem fit, 33 per cent reservation for women and making all the 19 scheduled languages in the country national languages.

The BJP's agenda says, ''We will adopt a national water policy which provides for the effective and prompt settlement of disputes and their time-bound implementation.

''We will legislate for the reservation of 33 per cent of seats in Parliament and state assemblies for women.

''A committee will be set up to study the feasibility of treating all the 19 languages included in Schedule 8 of the Constitution as official languages.

''We will provide legal protection to the existing percentages of reservation in educational institutions at the state level.''

Though the BJP's manifesto had said much about uprooting corruption from society, the national agenda only says that the Lok Pal bill, "with adequate powers to deal with corruption charges against anyone, including the prime minister," would be enacted.

No concrete promises have been given to any of the allies, at least publicly, about pursuing corruption charges. The Trinamul Congress's Mamta Bannerjee had asked for investigations into various charges against the West Bengal government, ditto with Jayalalitha and the Tamil Nadu government.

Interestingly, the BJP's acclaimed stance on abolishing Article 356, empowering the Centre to dismiss state governments, is missing from the national agenda.

All the allies, except Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress's Vazhapady K Ramamurthy and Janata Party's Dr Subramanian Swamy, were present at the national agenda's release.

BJP not to dilute economic agenda

Elections '98

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