Presidential Address by Shri Bangaru Laxman
It is with a deep sense of honor that I stand before you today. I have no words to express my gratitude to all of you for electing me the Fifth President of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The recognition and the responsibility that you have conferred on me overwhelm me.
I know, however, that the recognition belongs not to me, but to this great Party. That the Party decided to elect an ordinary karyakarta like me for this high office shows the greatness and the distinctive character of the BJP. Indeed, each of my illustrious predecessors also began their political and public life as karyakartas.
This demonstrates that ours is a Party of karyakartas. I come from an ordinary dalit family. In our Party, social background of a person is no bar or hindrance for entrusting him or her with a responsibility. There is yet another message. A humble karyakarta is progressively shaped and prepared to take on bigger and higher responsibilities in the Party. The leadership of this Party is not preserved and reserved for members of a dynasty who think that it is their birthright to lead their Party and the Nation. The Bharatiya Janata Party, as our name itself proclaims, is a Party of and for the people of India.
My illustrious predecessors
I am acutely aware of the caliber, and stature of the lineage of Party Presidents. The founding President of this Party is our beloved leader Shri Atalji, who is now the beloved Prime Minister of our country. His deep wisdom, vast knowledge and experience, loving and caring nature, the respect he commands as the tallest leader in the country today, and the prestige he enjoys as a statesman in the international arena have always been the greatest asset of our Party.
Under the charismatic and dynamic leadership of Shri Advaniji, the Party has risen phoenix-like and soared higher and higher. There is no parallel in India to the phenomenon of a political Party, which, having been reduced to a near non-entity in the Indian Parliament in 1984 became the largest single Party in 1996 and then went on to become the leader of a ruling coalition in the elections both in 1998 and in 1999. Shri Advaniji's moral authority and his guidance in ideological, political, and organizational matters have always been a source of strength and inspiration for our Party.
Today, I also acknowledge my gratitude to Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and my immediate predecessor, Shri Kushabhau Thakre. Dr. Joshiji's intellect and scholarship and Shri Thakreji's rich experience in organization building have both made a major contribution to the growth of the Party.
It will be my sincere endeavor to be a worthy successor to the four great men who have served as Party Presidents in the past. I need their blessings, constant guidance, and cooperation to discharge my onerous responsibility. I am confident that I will get these in full measure.
I am fully aware of the significant contribution made by the other senior as well as younger leaders of the Party. I seek their cooperation and counsel in my work as Party President for the next three years. I am equally confident that I shall receive the fullest cooperation from all my other colleagues and karyakartas at the Centre and in the States.
Finally, I seek the blessings and guidance of the Almighty God to serve my Motherland in my new capacity as the President of the party that is most committed to regaining the greatness and glory of Bharat Varsh.
Two guiding lights of our Party
Today, I pay my respectful homage to the memory of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee and Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. Time will move on and generations will pass. However, our gratitude to these two leaders will remain undimmed. The BJP's ideological and political journey began with the formation of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1951. Dr. Mookerjee did not live long after founding the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. But his flaming nationalism, the character and integrity of his personality, and his courage to struggle for the Party's principles ensured that all of us belong to a Party with a difference and a political tradition with a difference. We are proud to celebrate the centenary of Dr. Mookerjee's birth this year.
The luster of this distinctive tradition grew immensely under the leadership of Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya. His thesis of "Integral Humanism" was an original and weighty contribution to the development of political thought in India. So profound and powerful is the vision presented in the thesis that it will continue to serve as the guiding light for our Party in the new century.
My own political life began with the Jana Sangh. Ours was a small party, but our influence on India's political life was hardly small. This was thanks to the greatness of our leadership. Deendayalji inspired thousands of young men, including myself, to join political life with a nationalist mission. We did see how even our leaders had to live a hard life, without any of the facilities that even ordinary political activists take for granted these days. Old-timers have seen even Deendyalji and Atalji travel from place to place in Delhi on bicycles.
However, the lack of material resources was more than made up by the resources of idealism and ideology that inspired us in our youth. "Rashtraya swaha, Rashtraya idam na mama" (I offer everything of mine to this nation. Now everything is the nation's, not mine) was the thought that propelled our workers and leaders, instilling in them discipline, loyalty, comradeship, and cohesiveness of a very high order.
The BJP today is an heir to this hoary tradition. What we have gained today is because of the tradition we established in the formative years of our Party. It is our foremost responsibility to carry forward this precious tradition of the BJP as "a party with a difference" in today's new and expansionary phase of its evolution. I will return to this issue later in my address.
Nagpur: The confluence of three great men
The choice of Nagpur for holding this session of the Party's National Council is pregnant with symbolism and significance. It is the point of confluence of three great visionaries of modern India: Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Dr. K. B. Hedgewar.
In December 1920, the All-India Congress Committee held its annual session in Nagpur. Gandhiji got adopted a new Party constitution, which was authored by himself, and which set "attainment of Swaraj by all legitimate and peaceful means" as the goal of the Congress. He subsequently used to visit this city frequently on his way to Wardha, which was the laboratory for many of his experiments in constructive social and economic development.
The Nagpur session of the AICC was also the high point of Dr. Hedgewar's brief stint in political life. As the head of the provincial unit of the Congress Party, he was in-charge of organizing the logistics of the session. As we all know, after quitting politics, Dr. Hedgewar founded the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in 1925 in Nagpur and made it its headquarters. Since then, the RSS has been the fountainhead of nationalist thought and action all over the country. I too, was initiated into nationalist activities at the age of twelve after being exposed to the RSS in my native city of Hyderabad.
Nagpur is also the karmabhoomi and dikshabhoomi of the greatest social reformer of modern India, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is in this city in October 1956 that Dr. Ambedkar, along with tens of thousands of his followers, embraced Buddhism. This was his last major act before he passed away two months later.
The three personalities - Gandhiji, Ambedkar, and Hedgewar - may outwardly seem to belong to three conflicting ideologies and socio-political traditions. The BJP however is proud to acknowledge the signal contribution of all these three great men in the making of modern India. We believe that, not only is there no contradiction and conflict between their respective beliefs and actions, but there is, indeed a deeper convergence of their ideals.
In their own different ways, they struggled for the rejuvenation of this ancient and once-glorious society that had fallen on bad times, become weak, enslaved, and a prey to chronic social ills. Nationalism was the fire that burnt in all these three hearts. All these three, by following their own different paths, strove for reforming the Hindu society, in the larger cultural and civilizational sense of the term "Hindu". This is clear even from Dr. Ambedkar's own explanation of the reasons for his Diksha to Buddhism.
The BJP is proud to pay tribute to these three great men, and to harmonize their legacies in today's times. Indeed, we are the only Party that acknowledges and salutes the contribution of all the great men and women, irrespective of their ideological affiliations and political backgrounds, who struggled for India's freedom, national renewal, and nation-building in the post-Independence era. Unlike our adversaries, we are not petty-minded. We are not dogmatic and blinkered by narrow considerations. For example, the refusal of the Deputy Chief Minister of West Bengal to participate in a function in Calcutta to celebrate the birth centenary of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a great son of Bengal and India - that too, when the Prime Minister was present on the occasion - is repugnant to the BJP's political culture.
The BJP's historic responsibility
Dear Delegates, our Party's National Council meeting is taking place at a very significant point in the history of our Party and in the history of India's democratic political system. It is the first National Council meeting of the Party in the new century.
That a BJP-led Government is in office at the Centre in the inaugural year of the 21st century is not a mere coincidence of the calendar. History has placed the responsibility on our shoulders of leading India towards her all-round renewal and resurgence. Niyati (Destiny) has willed that the BJP provide the right leadership to the country at this critical juncture, so that a firm foundation is laid for the realization of the Party's slogan which has now become the nation's slogan: "Let us make the 21st Century India's Century".
Our Party has a sound vision for India's future because we have a sound understanding of India's past and the present. We look at issues in a holistic and integral way, and not in a partial and segmented manner. We take a long-range view of issues, and not get swayed by the attraction of short-term gains. We believe in the approach of samanvay (harmonization) when faced with differing and conflicting interests. We always keep in mind the good of the nation as a whole - and not of any section or class - while evaluating a situation and formulating our stand or policy.
Our Nation-First policy
All of you know how, when the situation demanded, we have sacrificed or overlooked the immediate gains for our own Party and chosen a path which we thought was good for the country and good for our democracy.
This is well illustrated by our principled stand over the tragic killing of Sikhs in the aftermath of the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. We made spirited efforts to preserve Hindu-Sikh amity when terrorism stalked Punjab for a decade. Earlier, in 1977, when our leadership decided to disband the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and merge it into the Janata Party, it was motivated by the larger interests of Indian democracy.
At every turn in our national life, we have spoken for the country and we have acted for the country. We shall continue to do so. Nationalism first and last, nationalism in big and small matters, nationalism in politics and nationalism in economics - this was, is, and will continue to be the BJP's guiding principle.
However, in deciding our policy or stand on any issue in the light of nationalism, we have never been dogmatic and doctrinaire. We are proud of the fact that ours is perhaps the most innovative and self-adaptive party in India. There is no other party that has experimented so much, and yet has remained loyal to its own fundamental principles, as has the BJP.
Self-Adaptation through Self-Affirmation
When I look back and ask myself, "Which is the one basic factor that has helped our Party to grow from strength to strength in the past two decades?" the answer that strikes me as most appropriate is: "Self-Adaptation through Self-Affirmation." I am convinced that this is also the factor that best guarantees the BJP's future growth on a sustainable basis. Let me illustrate this thought.
Political adaptation: In the political sphere, the BJP's bold and imaginative strategy to build alliances with other political parties based on a common agenda has helped both the country and our Party. We have allies now even in the North-East. In one North-Eastern State, the BJP is a partner in the Government.
So successfully have we broken the shackles of "political untouchability" that our opponents had forged around us, that those who had tried to marginalize us have themselves been marginalized. The formation of the NDA itself is the greatest testimony to our ability to respond to the needs of the nation.
Social adaptation: In the social sphere, we have made conscious efforts to reach out to newer sections of Indian society. We have done this by espousing the specific concerns of the various sections of our society, and by advocating the common regional and national concerns, that binds all of them. Consequently, our Party's influence among the Dalits, Adivasis, and OBCs has grown substantially in the past decade. We have today the highest proportionate number of MPs belonging to these strata of our society compared to any major party.
India is a vast and diverse country. Each of our States also presents a picture of incredible social diversity. It is a challenging task before any political party to be sensitive to local and sub-local issues and, at the same time uphold the interests of the entire society. Some parties tend to raise issues pertaining to a particular region, caste, class, or community. There is nothing wrong with this approach so long as one is not oblivious to the common interests of the entire society and the country.
It is one of the proud achievements of our Party that we have succeeded, to a significant extent, in reconciling disparate social and regional concerns. Of course, we should also admit in all humility that through our interaction with our allies in the NDA, we too have become more aware of, and sensitive to, the concerns of those sections of our society, which were earlier outside the ambit of our activities.
Economic adaptation: The goals of our Party's economic philosophy have been to fulfill the basic needs of all our citizens by making full use of our own resources, creating productive employment for all able-bodied persons, and to build a prosperous and egalitarian India. We have chosen Swavalamban (self reliance) as the guiding principle in this pursuit.
As I shall explain later, our goals remain the same. Nevertheless, the means and the methods that we need to use to achieve them will necessarily change with the changing times. Unlike the Communists, our Party is not a prisoner of any dogma. We are prepared to learn from new facts and new experiences
Political situation at the Centre:
Stable, but no room for complacency
Dear Delegates, I wish to now deal with some broad issues pertaining to the political, economic, and social situation facing our country and our Party.
The verdict of the people in the elections to the 13th Lok Sabha in September and October 1999 has ended the political instability at the Centre. The mandate was decisive. The BJP-led NDA Government was voted back to power. The electorate reposed its faith firmly in the leadership of our beloved Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Indeed, not since 1971 has an incumbent Prime Minister been returned to power. The verdict was also a stinging rebuke to the Congress Party, its "B Team", the Communists, and others who conspired to destabilize our Government in March last year.
More than the numerical majority of the NDA in the Lok Sabha, what sustains the stability of the Government is the enormous prestige of the Prime Minister and the cohesion among the constituent parties of the NDA. The relationship among the partners of the NDA is more harmonious than in its first stint in power. The coalition is also much more purposive and result-oriented than before. The BJP thanks all its allies for their unstinted support and cooperation in making the NDA the best experiment in coalition politics so far in the Centre. With the country having entered the era of coalitions, we are proud to have proved the Congress wrong in its self-serving prophecy that coalitions cannot provide stability and that the one party rule of the Congress alone can.
Although, the political waters are calm and no clouds of uncertainty hover above New Delhi, there can be no room for complacency on our part. The Congress has proved itself the biggest destabilizing force in Indian politics. Its commitment to democratic values and its deference to the verdict of the people has grown so weak over the years that it has in the past recklessly destabilized non-Congress Governments.
The Congress Party is today dispirited and demoralized. It is riven with deep discontentment and dissensions within its ranks. Disenchantment with the party's leadership prevails at all levels. Yet, its capacity for misadventure cannot be underestimated. Besides the Congress Party, there are other disgruntled mischief-makers too in the Opposition.
The Communists, in particular, are panicking at the unstoppable erosion of their base, even in the three islands, where until recently, they claimed they had erected a Red Fortress. Even West Bengal is getting ready to throw out the Communists and put an end to 23 years of their non-performance in the forthcoming elections to the State Assembly. While the CPI has already lost its recognition as a national party, the CPI (M) is on the verge of receiving an official seal on its irrelevance in national politics.
All efforts of the Opposition to create misunderstanding and fissures between the BJP and its partners in the NDA have failed. However, the BJP and all our allies must always be on vigil.
Political situation in the States
The political map of India shows greater diversity than ever before since Independence. No single national party dominates this map. The Congress, although it rules in more States than any other party, is certainly a party in irreversible decline. However, we have not been able to fill in the space vacated by the Congress and other parties.
In early next year, five big States will be going to the polls to elect new legislatures. Of the three new States of Chhattisgarh, Uttaranchal, and Jharkhand, Uttaranchal will also elect a new Vidhan Sabha of its own. We must make all-out efforts to win the people's mandate, singly or in alliance with other parties in all these States. Our preparations must begin in right earnest now.
In addition to Uttar Pradesh, in those States where we already are in power -Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab, Meghalaya, and Goa - we should make concerted efforts to improve the performance of our Governments. The fact that we are in the saddle in the Centre removes several impediments, which our State Governments earlier had to face. We must make full use of this to speed up the developmental work in these States.
In States where we are in the opposition, our Party units must intensify their efforts in playing the role of a responsible opposition. I urge them to take up people's issues and build rigorous political activity around them both inside and outside the legislatures. They should constantly take the incumbent Governments to task for the latter's failure in fulfilling their promises to the people. At the same time, they should also offer constructive support to the Governments in implementing all pro-people policies and programmes. The touchstone of our opposition or support to any policy of these Governments should be: "Does this policy accelerate the State's socio-economic development or retard it?"
The NDA Government: Its significance for India and for our Party
Friends, the emergence of the NDA on the national scene marks a positive new phase in Indian politics. By taking the lead in forming the NDA, and showing our ability to make it a stable and successful model of governance, the BJP has entered a new phase in its evolution. For us, it represents a definite movement forward. For the country's democracy too, it marks a definite movement forward. Previous coalitions collapsed because of two reasons: there was no central force to keep them together and there was no acceptable leader. The BJP is proud that we have helped the NDA overcome both these critical shortcomings.
The NDA, as our common manifesto has rightly pointed out, "is representative of both national interests and regional aspirations - after all the NDA is nothing but the mirror-image of our nation's unity in multi-faceted diversity, rich pluralism, and federalism." The experience of the past two-and-a-half years of the NDA Government has clearly shown that it has afforded regional parties an opportunity to play their due role in the affairs of the Union Government, enabling them to develop a national perspective on various issues. At the same time, it has helped national parties to become more aware of regional issues and aspirations.
We must build on the successes of the NDA so far and make it an even more effective instrument of democratic governance. This is the common responsibility of both the BJP and all our allies. We must together further strengthen the practice of the "Dharma of Coalition" so that every issue, however contentious, can be sorted out through constant dialogue and consultations.
No dilution of the identity of the Party
Often, some of our well-wishers express apprehensions about the dilution of the BJP's distinctive identity because of its decision to keep out of the common agenda of the NDA some issues that figured prominently in our previous manifestos. More than our own supporters, it is our opponents and detractors who seem to be interested in keeping a debate on this alive.
The doubts and criticisms on this score are unfounded. The basic identity of our Party is shaped by our unflinching commitment to nationalism, the integrity and idealism of our leaders and workers, and the discipline and cohesiveness in our organization. These have always distinguished the BJP from other parties, and will continue to do so.
The formation of the NDA based on a common agenda testifies to our ability to pursue our commitment to nationalism while at the same time persuading parties of different backgrounds to be allies of the BJP and accept its leadership. The experience of the past two-and-a-half years of the NDA Government at the Centre has clearly vindicated the correctness of our stand. Nobody can deny today that the BJP has gained, and not lost, by adopting this approach.
This is not a compromise that we have made merely to secure or retain power. Rather, we are using the opportunity of governance at the Centre to promote many of the larger interests of the nation. I would like our workers and supporters to explain our overall approach clearly and confidently, without being apologetic.
Kashmir and the challenge to our national unity and security
Dear delegates, no single issue claims greater attention of the national mind today than the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan's decade-long proxy war against India has now entered a deadly new phase. The humiliating defeat of Pakistan in the war in Kargil last year, soon followed by the military coup in Islamabad have made our neighbour more desperate to achieve what it has failed to achieve since Partition: namely, dismemberment of India and annexation of Kashmir. The mass killing of Sikhs in March this year followed by the massacre of the Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and the migrant workers from Bihar and Madhya Pradesh - not to speak of the countless daily acts of violence targeting both civilians and our security forces - demonstrate how desperate Pakistan has become.
It has fallen on our Government to face this situation with a combination of clarity in perspective, firmness in strategy, and flexibility in tactics. The Prime Minister's historic bus journey to Lahore in February 1999 conclusively proved India's peace credentials. However, when Pakistan perfidiously attacked India a few months later in Kargil, our brave soldiers taught the enemy a befitting lesson. Our victory on the battlefield, complemented by our diplomatic success in isolating Pakistan on the world stage, marked a clear departure from the earlier weak-kneed handling of the Kashmir issue.
Our Government followed up on the success in Kargil with confident and well-thought-out initiatives to start talks with representatives of Kashmir-based groups. The Prime Minister's bold statement that the Government would hold these talks within the parameters of Insaniyat (humanism) further raised the hopes of the people of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh who crave peace, normalcy, and an end to bloodshed. The fact that hopes for peace were rising in the Kashmir Valley terrorized Pakistan. This is why, Pakistan, both directly and through the network of "jihadi" organizations that it has long patronized, has stepped up its war of terrorism against India.
The situation in Jammu and Kashmir today is delicate and complex. It is changing fast, throwing up both challenges as well as new opportunities for progress. Our Party has a crucial responsibility in evolving a correct approach in the best interests of India's unity, integrity, and security. New situations always demand new and creative thinking without jettisoning the broad national objectives. In the months to come, the Party may be required to debate and decide its position on several issues that may constitute the basis of the talks between the Government and Kashmir-based groups. I am confident that both our Party and our Government will rise to the occasion.
The situation in the North-East continues to cause concern. In spite of some positive developments, extremist groups, actively aided by the ISI, are still on the prowl. ISI-backed terrorist and subversive organizations have spread their tentacles in other parts of the country, too. Naxal violence in several States continues unabated. The Party urges the Government and the people to continue to be vigilant towards these dangers. There is also a need for greater co-ordination between the Centre and the State Governments. Let us all together make India a "zero-tolerance" zone for terrorism and all types of extremism.
It is also the responsibility of all the political parties and social organizations in the country to maintain peace and communal harmony in the face of continuing provocation by Pakistan and its agents. As recent revelations on the diabolical activities of ISI-backed organizations like Deendar Anjuman have shown, Pakistan is bent on fomenting communal trouble and violence. The more we frustrate evil designs, the more will Pakistan find it difficult to continue with its proxy war against India.
I wish to emphasize this point because of the close inter-relationship between communal peace, internal security, and India's image abroad. For example, some unfortunate recent incidents have disturbed the traditional peace and harmony between Hindus and Christians. Although these were an aberration, the media and the Opposition highlighted them in such a manner as to sully our country's fair name. This also enabled the ISI to play a nefarious role, although this role was soon exposed.
In this context, we should all heed the sagacious call by our Prime Minister in his Independence Day speech this year: "I appeal to the people of all faiths and castes not to create imaginary enemies and not to resort to the path of using the sword that inflicts wounds on oneself."
Economy: Achievements and challenges
Friends, in spite of many odds, our Government has managed the economy admirably. The economy is looking up. Growth rate is rising, inflation is under control, food grains production has increased in spite of the vagaries of the weather, Foreign Direct Investment as well as foreign portfolio investment are steadily growing, and industrial production is on the increase.
I am happy that the Government is taking all the necessary measures to carry on the reform programme with the proper safeguards to protect the employees of the Public Sector and the interests of the common man. Disinvestment in the public sector will be so carried out that it will not hurt the welfare of labour. Our policy is to use the proceeds of disinvestment to enhance further the allocation to the social sector and to retire public debt, which has become a heavy burden to us.
As the Indian economy restructures itself in the context of liberalization and globalization, the period of transition will bring create challenges for the Indian industry - big, medium, and small. I urge the Government to prepare a sound strategy for transition. Within the parameters of the WTO and our international obligations, the Government should provide adequate protection for as long is necessary to such of our industries that need help to face international competition. The Government should also increase its efforts to retrain, re-equip and redeploy those engaged in small and traditional enterprises that will become technologically obsolete or face other kinds of difficulties in the transition period.
I do appreciate that it is not easy for the Government to accomplish a turnaround of the economy overnight. We have to undo the ill effects of the wrong development and skewed growth strategies followed by the successive governments for over fifty years. But the people have high expectations of us. Moreover, they want quick results. Therefore, our long term strategy of bringing the economy to the right track should go hand in hand with an effective safety net to see that the burden on the common man, the housewife, the marginal farmer, and the families that are below the poverty line, is eased considerably.
The ultimate measure of the health of the economy for them is not impersonal and abstract statistical data on WPI, CPI, and the quantum of foreign exchange reserves. When they go to the bazaar, their monthly income should buy them their essentials and leave them with some money for future contingencies. This perspective should guide our economic policy. If the burden on the common man is not eased, all the promising indices lose their meaning and an impression will gain ground that the economic reforms are only for the benefit of the richer sections. I am happy that the government is taking several measures that are intended to benefit the poorer and disadvantaged sections of our society.
The Mantra of Faster Development
Friends, The mandate that the people of India have given to our Party and the NDA carries with it a historic responsibility. Their expectations from our Government are many. Government after Government in the past, especially after the 1960s, have belied their high hopes and failed to fulfil their needs. Although India has many impressive achievements to her credit in the past five decades, the common man generally remains cynical about Governments' promises and programmes. This is because of the continued gap between the people's aspirations and Governments' performance.
The NDA sought the mandate of the electorate on the promise of reducing this gap. We must make our best effort to fulfil this promise. We must pledge ourselves to transform our Swaraj into Suraj for the benefit of all our citizens.
We can do so by achieving faster, broader, and more equitable economic development. In this context, our Prime Minister has recently given a stirring call to the nation to make the next ten years a Decade of Development. To realize this objective, he has also set an ambitious target before the nation to double its per capita income in the next ten years. This calls for our economy to grow at a rate of more than 9 percent a year from the present 6.5 percent.
This target is not just our ambition; it is also our categorical imperative. Without our economy growing at this higher rate, we will not be able to either generate large-scale employment and win the war against poverty, or reduce regional and social imbalances.
Our country has all the natural, human, technological, and managerial resources to achieve this target. India now also has the leadership with the required political vision and the will, which it lacked earlier. What is needed, however, is to channel the collective energies of all the Indian people for the single-minded pursuit of this over-riding national objective.
Our Government has embraced comprehensive economic reforms as the fastest and surest way to achieve this objective. To some extent, the country has already evolved a broad consensus on economic reforms. Our Party and our Government are called upon to strengthen this consensus further.
Swadeshi, Liberalization, and Globalization: Complementary to each other
Friends, there is much debate these days on the meaning, intent, and content of the economic reforms followed by our Government. Some critical voices are heard every now and then within our Party and the adherents of our ideological fraternity. Some even say that our Party has abandoned its long-held commitment to Swadeshi and effected a U-turn by adopting these reforms. I wish to state emphatically today that this criticism is wrong for three reasons.
First, historically the BJP, and earlier the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, had all along favored debureaucratization, decontrol, and an end to the license-permit-quota raj, which had throttled our economy for many decades under successive Congress Governments. We never supported state socialism, which was influenced by the failed Soviet model. Our Party always advocated an economic system, in which the Government played only the role of a policy-maker, facilitator, and enforcer of laws and rules, leaving the actual economic activity to the creative forces of society.
Second, it is precisely because of the wrong strategies and policies adopted by the previous Governments that India, not withstanding her awesome resources and capabilities, is still saddled with mass poverty, unemployment, and under-development. This stark reality alone is a sufficient reason for us to make a clear departure from the past.
Third, the past two decades have seen far-reaching economic and political changes around the world. Governments all over the world are reviewing and revising their role in the economy by promoting the private and the non-governmental sectors. Inter-dependence among nations has increased manifold. In addition, global trade, investment, capital flows, and the revolutionary advances in communications, computers, and the Internet have made globalization an inescapable reality. This new global reality brings both challenges and new opportunities to India. India cannot afford to either overlook these challenges or ignore the opportunities to achieve greater prosperity for our people.
Therefore, Swadeshi in today's context does not mean blind opposition to either liberalization or globalization. It means evolving an effective strategy to further our national interests by seizing the opportunities and resisting the challenges presented by globalization. Swadeshi is not a static concept. As I have stated earlier, India has always adapted itself to new realities without ever compromising what is good for its people.
This does not mean that the course of economic reforms begun by previous Governments and continued by our Government is free from problems. All these problems could not possibly have been addressed in the two-and-a-half years that our Government has been in office. For instance, there is an urgent need to reverse the prolonged neglect of agriculture, food processing, rural development, small and cottage industries, textiles, and other traditional industries. These sectors of the economy employ a majority of our workforce and have the capability to generate large-scale additional employment. There is also the urgent need to speed up infrastructure development in power, railways, roads, ports, airports, etc.
Since March 1998, our Government has achieved many successes in the economic field. It has initiated far-reaching reforms, especially, in Information Technology and Telecom, whose benefits are already visible. I am confident that, in the coming months, the Government will focus more on those areas of our economy that have so far received less attention.
Gaon, Gareeb, and Kisan: Our primary commitment
Notwithstanding rapid industrialization and urbanization, India continues to live and work primarily in our villages. Agriculture is the mainstay of a majority of our population. Our vision of building a prosperous, developed, and self-confident India is rooted in a firm commitment to rural development, and the development of our agriculture.
Unfortunately, agriculture has not received adequate focus in the past fifty years. Such successes that our hard-working kisans have achieved - for example, the Green Revolution - only go to show how much can be gained even with limited Governmental attention. It goes to the credit of our Government, that it has, for the first time since Independence, announced a National Agriculture Policy. It aims to facilitate a 4 percent annual rate of growth in agriculture production.
Similarly, for rural development, we have redesigned many existing schemes, introduced several schemes, and vastly increased the budgetary allocations, and decentralized their implementation.
Our Party has a vital role in ensuring the successful implementation of the new agriculture policy as well as the plethora of rural development schemes. I urge our grassroots Party workers to involve themselves actively in monitoring especially those programmes that are aimed at alleviating the conditions of the poorest of the poor. Schemes such as the Indira Awas Yojana, Swarnjayanti Swarozgar Yojana, Janashree Bima Yojana, Annapurna Yojana, and Sarvapriya Yojana lend huge scope for our workers to mobilize the people to benefit from them. In doing so, they should ensure that there is no favoritism, no corruption, and no malpractices. I need hardly add that all this will help our Party to expand and strengthen its grassroots support in rural areas.
Social Justice: Our approach should be "Reservations Plus"
Dear Delegates, Samajik Nyay underpins our Party's vision for a new and resurgent India. The economic exploitation and social injustice that millions and millions of our brothers and sisters belonging to dalit, adivasi, and other disadvantaged communities have been subjected to for centuries have deformed Indian society. They have created a painful dichotomy between India's lofty cultural and civilizational values on the one hand and the wretched living conditions of so many of our fellow citizens.
This dichotomy is a wound on our national conscience that we cannot continue to live with in the 21st century. This wound will have to be healed or it will continue to distort and decelerate our nation's progress.
Until now, the issue of social justice has been addressed by the policy of reservation. This has, no doubt, served its intended purpose to a considerable extent. Reservation in educational institutions have enabled a whole new class of educated people to emerge among dalits, adivasis, and OBCs who, without the benefit of such affirmative action, would have continued to languish in educational backwardness. Similarly, reservations in Government employment have helped the representation of these deprived sections to grow from near-zero to levels that are at least visible.
Most importantly, reservations in Parliament, State legislatures, and Panchayati Raj institutions have politically empowered these hitherto powerless groups, giving them self-respect, self-confidence, and a stake in governance.
The BJP has always supported the policy of reservations for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and OBCs, and our support shall remain as strong as ever. Indeed, we take legitimate pride in the achievement of our Government to extend the provisions of reservation by another ten years and to remove the problem relating to the filling up of backlog in reserved vacancies, even thought it required an amendment to the Constitution.
However, an objective assessment of the experience of the past five decades proves that reservations are a necessary, but not sufficient, condition to secure social justice. The vast majority of our dalit, adivasi, and OBC brethren continue to live in poverty and educational deprivation. Most of them are not in a position even to avail the existing provisions of reservations. When a majority of them remain condemned to continued poverty and illiteracy, they cannot conceivably take adequate advantage of political reservation.
At the present rate of change in their social, economic, and educational status, it will not be before many more decades that they can enjoy some parity with the more privileged and forward sections of our society. This slow change is not acceptable to our Party. Therefore, the time has come for the BJP to put forward a bold new agenda before the nation to secure faster social justice, educational uplift, and economic advancement to all the underprivileged sections of our society.
To understand better the close linkage between social justice, economic democracy, and political freedom, it is instructive for us to recall the sage advice of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar:
"The soul of Democracy is the doctrine of one man, one value. Unfortunately, Democracy has attempted to give effect to this doctrine only so far as the political structure is concerned by adopting the rule of one man, one vote…. It has left the economic structure to take the shape given by those who are in a position to mold it. This has happened because Constitution lawyers … never realized that it was equally essential to prescribe the shape and form of the economic structure of society, if Democracy is to live up to its principle of one man, one value. Time has come to take a bold step and define both the economic structure as well as the political structure of society by the Law of the Constitution…."
A 10-Point Agenda for advancing Social Justice
In this context, I wish to present a 10-Point Agenda for Social Justice:
1) Continue with reservations: We should continue all the existing provisions of educational, employment, and political reservation for as long as is necessary, and ensure their effective implementation at all levels.
2) Effective enforcement of laws to curb social injustice: The record so far of implementing the existing legal provisions to curb social injustice and discrimination based on caste leaves much to be desired. The offenders are rarely brought to book. In particular, the guilty in atrocities against Dalits, Adivasis, and lower castes are seldom prosecuted and punished. Consequently, the victimized communities often feel that the police, administrative, and legal machinery cannot be depended upon and that they should defend themselves. Extremist groups for their own nefarious ends have in many places, exploited this situation. The unending trail of large-scale caste violence in Bihar, for example, is a shame on modern India. The time has therefore, come to review the implementation of the laws against social injustice and atrocities thoroughly.
3) Economic reforms as a guarantor of Social Justice: It is now widely accepted that reservations in government jobs alone cannot adequately advance social and economic justice for the deprived communities. At the same time, the capacity of the Centre and State governments to create new jobs is increasingly constrained. It is, therefore, obvious that the only answer to free our dalit, adivasi, and OBC brethren from the chains of poverty and social backwardness is the rapid generation of millions of new opportunities for employment and self-employment in the private, informal, and non-government sectors of the economy. For this, we need to broad-base and accelerate our economic growth to a rate of nearly ten percent of GDP yearly on a sustainable long-term basis. This target cannot be realized without speeding up the process of economic reforms. Therefore, faster economic reforms must be seen as a crucial guarantor of social justice for dalits, adivasis, OBCs, and other disadvantaged people.
4) Samajik Nyay with Samajik Samarasata: To strengthen and further deepen our democracy, it is of course necessary to politically mobilize more and more deprived castes and communities, which have hitherto remained unrepresented or under-represented in the political process. However, political parties should exercise maximum self-restraint in mobilizing support exclusively or excessively on caste and community lines. Such mobilization, especially for electoral gains, invariably creates tension and division in society, which ultimately weakens the common effort for social justice. The imperative of Samajik Samarasata (social harmony) should be never be lost sight of in pursuit of Samajik Nyay.
5) Raise literacy to the national average: A crash programme to increase the level of literacy among dalits, adivasis, and educationally most backward sections of OBCs to the national average within the next ten years. A specific component of this programme must aim at raising the levels of female literacy to national levels in those States and regions where it is abysmally low today. To achieve this purpose, all the resources of the Centre, State Governments, the private sector, NGOs, and existing educational institutions should be effectively harnessed in a common mission. Literacy-enhancing programmes should be combined with vocational training, health, population, and family welfare education.
6) Post better administrators for better results: There is a disturbing tendency in the bureaucracy to look upon postings in departments and programmes related to literacy, education, health, and vocational training, which require grassroots work and regular travel to remote and underdeveloped areas, as "unattractive" and "non-glamorous". Civil servants who are not themselves motivated can hardly be expected to motivate the people in successful implementation of such programmes. High levels of corruption also plague these programmes. Consequently, the Centre and the State Governments spend vast resources on them year after year, without achieving desired results. It is necessary, therefore, to post the best administrators and also competent managers drawn from the non-Government sector for the implementation of this mission, which should be subjected to a regular social audit.
7) Impose obligations on the private sector: The private sector is today exempt from the obligation of reservations. However, there is no reason why it should be exempt also from the obligations of social sector development. It should be made mandatory for every private business to earmark a certain portion its turnover for supporting accredited non-governmental activities aimed at providing better educational, health-care and other facilities in social development for the underprivileged. Compliance with this social obligation should be made one of the conditions for considering their proposals for loans and other facilities from the Government, banks, and financial institutions.
8) Make traditional vocations more remunerative: A majority of the poor belonging to the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and OBCs are engaged in unorganized economic activities. They are employed or self-employed in arts, crafts, weaving, and other traditional vocations. There should be a national mission to improve their economic conditions by supporting their economic activities through better credit provision, better marketing, better management, and greater inputs from appropriate science and technology. Exports of these products should be promoted in such a way that primary producers get their fair share in the export earnings.
9) Promote more entrepreneurs and professionals: Wherever possible, the Government should introduce suitable legislation to make specific categories of Dalits, adivasis, and OBCs part or full owners of the local natural resources that they work on. For example, tens of thousands of poor people are engaged in quarrying work in India. They usually belong to lower castes. Can we not have a provision which mandates that quarries are leased only to cooperatives of quarry workers, and that anybody who wishes to do this business must partner with such cooperatives? This approach can be extended to other economic activities such as brick kilns, gathering of forest produce, etc. Development of entrepreneurship among Dalits, adivasis, and OBCs is a critical need for the next phase of Social Justice movement in India. The greater the number of successful entrepreneurs, professionals, and managers from these communities, the higher will be their demonstration effect on other members of these communities. Towards this end, the functioning of bodies such as the SC and ST Finance Corporation, Backward Class Commission, etc. at the Centre and at the States should be thoroughly reviewed and improved.
10) Reduce the 'Digital Divide': Information Technology, bio-technology, and other enterprises based on new areas of knowledge have become the new engines of wealth creation. At the same time, these have created legitimate apprehensions about a new "Digital Divide" between those who have access to IT and those who do not. In the Indian context, this divide has an additional social overlap in the sense that dalits, adivasis and OBCs are our IT have-nots, they will continue to remain so for a long time unless effective remedial action is taken. The Government, the IT industry, the rest of the business class, and academic institutions should urgently respond to this potential danger. They should launch special efforts to reach the benefits of computers, communications, Internet, and other opportunities of IT to these communities, so that IT becomes the newest tool to advance social justice.
Increased focus needed on social reform
Promotion of Samajik Nyay and Samajik Samarasata cannot be achieved through governmental action alone. The role of the society itself in creating a new awareness about social solidarity and changing outmoded customs and practices can hardly be overemphasized.
History shows that self-reform has always been an important feature of our society. Much of the uniqueness and vigor of the Freedom Movement came from the conscious and active efforts made by its great leaders to combine political struggle with a strong agenda for social reform. Unfortunately, after Independence political activity became divorced from the liberative agenda of social reform.
Illiteracy, practice of untouchability, gender discrimination, the evil of dowry, plight of the elderly, environmental degradation, deculturization of our youth are some of the problems that cannot be comprehensively addressed by political and governmental action alone. Initiatives and efforts by non-governmental and voluntary organizations are commendable. However, their best efforts are not good enough, given the scale of problems the Indian society is facing. It is time we thought of enlarging our agenda and address these issues also, and contribute our mite to free our country from these shameful social evils.
A dalit who is the victim of the practice of untouchability and social discrimination cannot wholeheartedly sing the glory of Bharat Mata. An illiterate person cannot positively identify himself with the nation. A young man who is struggling to find a job opportunity finds it difficult to engage in the service of the nation constructively. A young girl harassed for dowry can scarcely believe that our culture earnestly espoused the value "Yatra Nari poojyante…" Unless we strive to abolish the structures that give rise to discrimination of and disadvantage to these sections, their participation in our national mainstream cannot be meaningful and wholesome.
Our Party should actively support and encourage all such genuine efforts without, in any way, trying to reap immediate electoral benefits. I would like all our workers and leaders to be associated with some social reform activity in his or her community, neighborhood, or region, so that we make the social and political processes of development proceed in tandem. I will further deal with this issue later in my speech.
Further expansion of the Party's social base
Dear Delegates, as I have said before, our Party has rapidly expanded its social base to reach out to newer areas of our social and geographical space. Our achievements in this respect have reflected themselves in electoral gains at the Centre and in many States.
However, the results of the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, and also, recent elections in some States show a trend that demands a serious look from us. Our gains seem to be have reached a plateau. Both our seats and the vote share in the Lok Sabha elections of 1998 and 1999 remained more or less the same. In some States, which were our traditional strongholds, we have suffered setbacks. In some other States, where our Party has grown rapidly in the past decade or so and where we expected to come to power, our performance was not up to the mark. We need to think seriously about our future strategy to ensure that we grow from strength to strength on a sustainable basis.
Some political observers in the country have already concluded that the BJP has reached a point of saturation electorally. This is an incorrect assessment of our Party as well as the overall political situation. Indeed, these observers had also voiced the same conclusion in the 1991 and 1996 Lok Sabha elections! However, each time we proved them wrong. The challenge before us is to prove them wrong again in the future.
I believe that, what is most important to face this challenge successfully is our own self-confidence in our ability to do so. We must have faith in ourselves, in our policies and programmes, and, above all, in our people. It is this self-confidence, it is this refusal in the past to accept any level of achievement as the terminal point of our potential for growth, which has helped us go further and grow further.
In addition, we should also honestly introspect on the factors that are impeding our continued rapid expansion. I can identify three such factors.
One, although, we have been able to attract dalits, adivasis, and OBCs in significant numbers in recent years, we have yet to consolidate this new support base and continuously expand it among these numerically and socially important sections of our society. I urge all our Party units to make sustained efforts to expand our political and organizational work among dalits, adivasis, and OBCs.
Second, in States where we were elected to power, we have generally not succeeded in beating the anti-incumbency trend. In other words, the BJP has not yet become the "preferred party of governance" in the eyes of the people. I would urge all our colleagues in States where we have been victims of the anti-incumbency factor to do a critical analysis of their gains and losses. They should also learn from the positive experiences of other political parties that have survived the anti-incumbency trend.
The third factor is the equation between our Party and the Muslim community. This is a complex subject in itself, and I wish to deal with it in some detail.
Reworking the relationship between the BJP and Indian Muslims
An undeniable feature of Indian politics for the past five decades has been a certain distance separating Indian Muslims and the Bharatiya Janata Party and, earlier, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh. What is equally undeniable is that this distance has not helped either our Muslim brethren or our Party. Above all, it has not helped India and her democracy.
Several historical reasons account for this distance. The Partition of India harmed the interests of Indian Muslims in many ways. One of the important areas where it did so was in politics. Muslims have not been able to play their due role in the country's democratic process. Such parties as they have been supporting have mostly used them as vote banks, to keep them away from the BJP by using the bogey of communalism. This, however, has not benefited the Muslim masses. They have, by and large, neither got their rightful share in the nation's development nor been able to join the national mainstream to play their due role in nation-building.
On our part, we in the BJP have not made sustained efforts to reach out to Indian Muslims in a bid to weaken the influence on their minds of the sustained negative propaganda by our adversaries. We have somehow taken it for granted that our Party will never receive any significant support from them. This pre-conceived approach has not helped our Party, either. Results of the 1999 Lok Sabha elections have clearly shown that our marginal gains were totally out of sync with the caliber and prestige of our leadership, the highly favorable atmosphere for the BJP and the unfavorable conditions for the Congress and our other adversaries. One of the chief reasons for our less-than-expected success was our Party's failure to secure Muslim votes. Ironically, although Shri Atalji is highly respected and popular among Indian Muslims, they tend to keep away from the BJP.
We cannot afford to allow this situation to continue. If we do so, we shall be hurting our own future prospects, and Muslims will continue to be used as vote banks by our adversaries. In this context, I wish to recall what the Chennai Declaration of our Party, adopted in the last session of the National Council in December 1999, has said:
"Results in all the recent elections have shown that the BJP's onward march depends critically on its ability to reach out to those sections of Indian society who have, for various reasons, remained uninfluenced by its appeal. It has, especially, become necessary to expand the Party's support base among religious minorities, who are an integral part of our society. The Party shall thoroughly review its existing relationship with religious minorities consistent with its resolve to strengthen Indian nationhood. Based on a sincere and principled approach of espousing and redressing their issues in a just and non-appeasement manner, the BJP shall make intensified efforts to increase its support base among religious minorities."