Indore: BJP president Nitin Gadkari unveiled his “new deal” for the BJP at the party’s national council meet, including an offer to build a grand mosque to replace the Babri Masjid, although at an alternative site.
The deal he offered was that of a “kinder, gentler” approach to minorities, an inclusive agenda regarding Dalits and rural India, and an assurance to his partymen that performance would be rewarded.
Scarcely had Gadkari made his speech that party spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy had to do a little backtrack operation, saying the Mosque offer was conditional, meaning it would “happen at an appropriate time after due consultation with all parties.” Sources say a stern phone call came from the VHP, which asked the BJP top brass how such an undertaking could be given on behalf of the Sangh Parivar.
Gadkari’s hour-long speech made little mention of the Ram Mandir issue, but got the most applause when he “appealed” to Muslims that they voluntarily give up their claim to the Ram Mandir complex in return for an alternative site “where the BJP will help build a grand mosque.”
The message most delegates seem to come away with was that Gadkari and the RSS appeared to have come to the conclusion that the party had peaked electorally as far as its current electoral base was concerned and was looking to add to it. Gadkari said as much in his speech. “I aim to increase our vote share by at least 10% to our existing base,” he said. This 10%, according to Gadkari’s calculation, would come from Dalits, tribals, the rural population, youth and even minorities.
“When I landed in Indore, I decided to first go to Mhow, the birthplace of Babasaheb Ambedkar, for his blessings. There I ate at a Dalit councillor’s house, but I made sure that this was not enacted in front of TV cameras, as for me the fight against untouchability is not a political strategy but a firm conviction,” he said, clearly alluding to AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
While his plans for the party’s political issues were articulated at length, he did not forget to address the party’s internal issues.
“I promise I will set up a system of internal evaluation and accountability, and institute an award for the best-performing MLA, MLC, MP and ministers,” he said. He would also set up a team to look into getting together a vision 2025 for the party and its plans.
Significantly, Gadkari’s centrist approach stands in contrast to his predecessor Rajnath Singh’s, who had warned the party of deviating too much from the hindutva ideology.“In the 1980s there was a great rivalry between Pepsi and Coke and while Pepsi retained its USP and worked on its strengths, Coke tried to experiment with it basic flavour, leading to Pepsi’s ascendance. This can well happen anywhere,” Singh had said during his last speech as party president.
Between the hardline and centrist agendas, it seems as though Gadkari is throwing his weight behind the latter.