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March 18, 1998

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Indians will build India, with a little help from others: BJP

Rajesh Ramachandran in New Delhi

The Bharatiya Janata Party's national agenda, which was released in New Delhi today, played on economic and military self-reliance.

But it still walked a skilful tightrope walk between the compulsions of realpolitik and pre-election hype, even calling for a ''new era in government-opposition co-operation''.

Asked about the new government's attitude towards the economy, prime minister-designate Atal Bihari Vajpayee said, "India will be built by Indians," subsequently adding that foreign direct investments would be welcome in core sectors. But the BJP and its allies have not clearly defined a policy to discourage foreign direct investment in non-priority areas.

The agenda promises that deregulation will be conducted with sincerity and that the government would review all laws and regulations relating to industry "so as to free it from bureaucratic control". But going by the national agenda, the BJP also intends to protect the Indian industry.

Future opening up of the economy, the agenda affirmed, would be done only after analysing "the effects of globalisation, devising a time-table to suit our national conditions and requirements to… strengthen the national economy, the indigenous industrial base, the financial base and the financial and services sectors."

It also clarifies its position in trade vis-a-vis the World Trade Organisation, stating the government would try to build up stronger economic ties with developing countries and assert India’s national interests in the world body.

Along with the removal of unemployment, the 13-party coalition has promised accelerated development of infrastructure, particularly energy and power production.

The agenda frowned upon the entry of foreign media into the country and proposed a broadcasting bill to improve the Prasar Bharati Act.

It "will restrict foreign equity holding in private television broadcasting to 20 per cent, and prevent cross-holding to avoid emergence of monopolies in the media," the agenda said.

Other promises include improved food, security and price conditions, availability of drinking water, increase in investment on education to six per cent of the GDP and the construction of two million houses every year.

The agenda also reiterates the BJP government's intention to go nuclear. "We will re-evaluate the nuclear policy, and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons," the national agenda states.

When Vajpayee was asked if pressure from the US could deter him from pursuing an aggressive nuclear policy, he said, "We are not bothered by anybody's anger. There is no reason why anybody should be angry with our policy."

On the cards are a commission to review the Constitution "in the light of the experiences of the last 50 years", a national judicial commission to recommend judicial appointments in high courts and the Supreme Court and draw up a code of ethics for the judiciary, and a backward areas commission to help state identify least developed areas.

Also proposed are a national housing and habitat policy, a national charter for children, a national charter for social harmony for the socially weaker sections, a national security council to analyse the military and economic threats to the nation, including India's first-ever strategic defence review, a national reconstruction corps for the youth, and a national informatics policy to make for a software superpower.

The agenda states the government would ''truly and genuinely uphold and practice the concept of secularism consistent with the Indian traditions of sarva panth samadara (equal respect for all faiths)''. The agenda assured the minorities that all necessary steps would be taken for their economic and educational development.

The interests of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and backward classes would also be adequately safeguarded by appropriate legal, executive and social efforts, the agenda states.

Vajpayee said the agenda would usher in a 'new political age of reconciliation and accord' and that it intended to end the 'adversarial relationship' between the ruling group and the opposition.

Vajpayee said he wanted the bitterness and hostility that marked the relationship between the government and the opposition to ''become a thing of the past. The nation cannot afford such adversity. We will replace it with co-operation and participation''.

Additional reportage: UNI

Elections '98

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