In the picturesque coastal town of north Kerala, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to change its spots. As it ended the first day of its three-day national council meeting, the party focussed on welfare of the poor, distancing from its core plank of nationalism and national security.
On a day when Russian troops landed in Pakistan for a joint military exercise and punched holes in Narendra Modi government’s claims that its diplomatic offensive has isolated Islamabad in the international community, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav insisted that the focus of the annual national council meeting was ‘Garib Kalyan’, or welfare of the poor.
Party sources said people should expect that the PM, in the next two days, will come up with a slogan to rival that of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi’s ‘garibi hatao, desh bachao’, end poverty to save the country, in the run up to the 1971 Lok Sabha polls. BJP leaders said it was an effort to claim a space that the Congress has occupied in the public imagination over the last couple of decades.
But for a party that swears by nationalism, the BJP leadership found itself struggling to ensure that Sunday’s terror strike in Uri, in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, didn’t overshadow its national council meeting. There was a sense in the party that it might have overplayed the Uri incident without the Modi government being able to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. On Russia-Pakistan joint military exercise, Madhav evaded the question and said lots of “news is floating around”.
On whether the Uri terror attack might be taken up during the proceedings of the national council, Madhav said it will be discussed at the appropriate level but the focus will remain on welfare of the poor. It was the same Madhav who, within hours of the terror attack on Sunday, had demanded “the entire jaw for a tooth.”
Senior leaders, however, conceded that there was immense pressure and anticipation from the supporters that the PM should speak on the Uri issue. It is likely that the PM will refer to his government’s response to Uri terror attack either at his public rally on Saturday at the Calicut beach or on Sunday in his concluding address at the national council meet. The issue could also form part of BJP President Amit Shah’s speech on the last day of the meeting. Today, Shah had a restricted meeting with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) joint general secretary Krishna Gopal, who is in Kozhikode as an observer.
Until now, the political resolution to be passed on the last day of the meeting by 1,700 delegates, who have converged in Kozhikode from across India, is unlikely to directly refer to either Pakistan or the Uri attack. It would, however, talk about the issue of terrorism and national security in general terms.
The resolution would appeal to the party cadres and governments in the states to rededicate themselves to the philosophy of Sangh Parivar ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya — that of Antyodaya, or serving the poorest. It would ask all its state governments to implement the ‘Garib Kalyan Agenda’ and Modi government’s 80 schemes for the next one year, the birth centenary year of Upadhyaya. It would be interesting to see how in the next two days the BJP and the PM strike the balance between their efforts to project themselves as pro-poor while satisfying their core supporters, who are anticipating a strong response to Pakistan.