If Narendra Modi galvanised the mood of the party delegates at the BJP National Council meet, party patriarch LK Advani in his concluding speech did some plain speak. He spoke on the possible strategies that the party should act on to enhance its support base among the minorities and how to turn the existing opposition coalition into a NDA Plus.
He began by saying that the mood in the country was of anger and revulsion against the Congress-led government at the Centre.
“Congress leaders are displaying a certain arrogance indicating that their party enjoys the TINA (There Is No Alternative) advantage. This arrogant expectation is completely at variance with the mood of the people.”
He then raised two questions to his own party workers – first, what will be the shape of this alternative and second, what role should the BJP play in ensuring the alternative comes to fruition?
“The answers to these two questions are closely inter-related. Firstly, we must work closely with all the like-minded parties ─ both those within the NDA and those outside the NDA ─ to reassure the people that a strong, viable non-Congress alternative, with an agreed agenda of good governance, is available before them.”
Advani was conscious of BJP’s perceived anti-minority image and thus he went at length to chart out what should be his party’s strategy to counter that.
“The BJP must credibly convey our conviction that we care, equally and without any discrimination, for every section of society, irrespective of caste and religious considerations. I believe that the mutual equation between the BJP and the minorities must be changed, in order to achieve a fundamental transformation in India’s democracy, development and national integration. The BJP must take the initiative in this direction by including a Charter of Commitments to the minorities in its Agenda of Governance and Development. I am sure that we can succeed in this endeavour. Let us move decisively in this direction in the months to come.”
To impress on the workers on the issue, he referred to Goa where the BJP had succeeded in winning support of substantive section of the Christian community and recent comment of Mahmood Madani, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-I-Hind, praising the performance of the Modi Government in Gujarat. Advani referred to Salaya, a small Muslim-majority town in Jamnagar District, Gujarat where in municipal elections held last month saw BJP end Congress’s 25 years of dominance by winning all the 27 seats in the Municipality -- 24 out of these winning candidates were Muslims.
As party’s patron, he admitted there have been situations where party failed to respond to popular aspirations.
"The fairly widespread support to Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption was an eloquent indicator of the popular mood. Unfortunately, the BJP failed to read, and respond adequately to this mood. In the two Houses of Parliament, the Party attacked government strongly on both these issues.
"But our overall response outside was a disappointment for even our own supporters. Without mincing words let me admit that our wavering and unprincipled handling of the situation in Karnataka caused great damage to our image. We forgot that the people judge the commitment of any political party to fight corruption not by its pronouncements but by its practice and, when the need arises, by its punitive actions."
"On the issue of corruption, the Party must adopt very strict norms. when the BJP was launched in 1980, Shri Vajpayee had urged us to become a “Party with a difference”. We indeed built a strong reputation on this score, which endeared the BJP both to the common masses and also to a large number of politically conscious persons across the country. However, contrary to this aspiration, the image of the BJP that has gained ground in the past few years, is that of a party with differences, which talks in multiple voices."
Indeed, the party president Rajnath Singh has his task cut out for him. Whether he succeeds in that will be reflected in the composition of his new team in a week’s time.