Presidential address by Shri L.K. Advani to the BJP National Council
New Delhi, October 27, 2004
Brother and sister delegates,
We meet today in exceptional circumstances.
On October 18, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu indicated to the senior leaders of the BJP his unwillingness to continue as party president. His reasons were intensely personal and noble. All of us, without exception, pressed him to continue, perhaps by taking some time off to attend to his family. Shri Naidu felt this would be unfair to both the party and himself. He urged us to allow him to relinquish charge.
When persuasion failed, the office bearers met and reluctantly accepted Shri Naidu's resignation.
In the 26 months he served as party president, Shri Naidu set exemplary standards in dedication and energy. His enthusiasm was infectious and his forthrightness endearing. He led from the front, undaunted in adversity and humble in triumph.
I salute Shri Naidu for his role in steering the party through challenging times. The party will continue to benefit from his services.
Friends, these are trying times for the BJP. When we met on February 6 this year, the mood in the National Council was heady. Eight months later, the atmosphere is sombre.
In May 2004, we lost a general election we were confident of winning. It was a major setback. The steady advance of the BJP in the Lok Sabha, from 2 seats in 1984 to 181 seats in 1999, was both halted and reversed. We have come down to 138 seats.
The BJP has also lost its position as the largest party in the Lok Sabha. The difference between the BJP and Congress tally may be only 8 parliamentary seats. However, the symbolic importance of the Congress edging us to second place cannot be underplayed.
I would also like to stress the magnitude of the BJP reverses in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. Together they wiped out the very impressive showing of the party in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Karnataka.
Over the past months, the party has undertaken a review of the results of the general election. The process of introspection has acquired an additional urgency in view of the narrow failure of our alliance to secure a majority in the Maharashtra Assembly election.
Let me say at the outset that we respect the verdict of the people unreservedly. The electorate may not have given a categorical endorsement to the Congress-led alliance. The UPA Government at the Centre is unquestionably a combination based on expediency and opportunism. Yet, we cannot be blind to the fact that this combination has managed to cobble a majority precisely because of our collective shortcomings.
What are the central lessons to be drawn from our performance in the general election?
First we must recognise where we miscalculated. We assumed a direct correlation between good governance and the electoral outcome. We were not entirely correct.
The BJP and the NDA fought the election on the strength of the inspired leadership of Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and its record in government. On both these counts we had much to be proud of.
In the course of six years, the Vajpayee Government transformed the face of India.
We enhanced India's competitive edge and strengthened the country's economic and technological foundations. We tried to remove the curbs on entrepreneurship and dismantle the pernicious licence-permit-quota raj that had shackled the country. We brought inflation down to a record low. India's forex reserves touched record levels.
We enhanced the nation's security by making India a nuclear power. We curbed cross-border terrorism and, at the same time, improved relations with our neighbours. We made India an important voice in the world.
We strengthened democracy in India. We gave a new and harmonious meaning to federalism and removed irritants in the path of Centre-State relations. We facilitated the most free, fair and transparent election in Jammu and Kashmir.
In years to come, I have no doubt that the government of Shri Vajpayee will be regarded as the most performing administration since Jawaharlal Nehru.
Unfortunately, good governance in a country as large and diverse as India does not generate a uniform effect. In focussing on the big picture we were guilty of overlooking some details.
We weren't sufficiently attentive to the human costs of rapid change. In making India globally competitive, we fell short of providing an adequate cushion to communities that were overwhelmed by both technology and the market.
In seeking to ride the crest of change we offended those who felt left out by it. They were unmoved by our assertion that India is shining.
We have paid a heavy price for our failings. We are mindful of our deficiencies. We will take the necessary corrective measures.
Second, in the course of the BJP's voyage from the fringe to the centre of the political stage, we aroused many expectations, some extremely emotive. We were unable to fulfil some of these.
The construction of a grand temple honouring Lord Ram at his birthplace in Ayodhya was one such issue.
For the BJP, and for me personally, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was a defining landmark. I have little hesitation in saying that it was our participation in this movement of Hindu resurgence that fired the people's imagination and catapulted the party to national prominence.
A large section of those who supported us from 1989 expected a BJP-led government to remove the hurdles in the path of temple construction in Ayodhya.
The expectations of the people were unrelated to the constraints of coalition politics, the churlishness of our opponents and the complications of judicial involvement.
In the final year of the NDA Government we made quiet progress to untangle the problem through negotiations involving Hindu and Muslim religious leaders. I was optimistic that a negotiated settlement honouring national sentiment would be possible shortly after the general election.
Unfortunately, the progress was slow and we deliberately chose to keep the discussions unpublicised. Consequently, at the time of the election there was understandable disappointment at our failure to show tangible progress in facilitating the Ram temple.
It was politically awkward for the BJP that much of the impatience was articulated by organisations we regard as fraternal. The dissensions fostered an impression of ideological disunity and confused our traditional supporters.
Concerns of karyakartas
Finally, we could not motivate our karyakartas sufficiently and uniformly.
The BJP is a party whose heart and soul is the kayakarta. It is the karyakarta who works tirelessly for the party through times good and bad. It is the karyakarta who connects to the ordinary voter.
Over the past few months, I have been disturbed by innumerable complaints from grassroots karyakartas about the behaviour and style of some party functionaries during the time BJP was in power at the Centre. There have been charges of arrogance, aloofness, cronyism, over-dependence on money power and even corruption.
This sort of conduct bolsters public cynicism. It reinforces the prevailing view that the country is being dragged down by the self-seeking, greedy politician.
The BJP is a party with a difference. Our claim will be lacking in credibility unless we show through our behaviour and integrity that we are not a part of the disease. The BJP will exert to change this image of the Ugly Politician.
The BJP expects its leaders and karyakartas at all levels to conduct themselves with honour, restraint and dignity. Our politics must be value-based. We cannot let the self-aggrandising Congress culture eat into our vitality.
We must set elevated standards of personal conduct. This is crucial if we are to reclaim the moral high-ground that enabled us to emerge as the new hope for a resurgent India.
It is important to dwell on our lapses. A political party has to be responsive to the voice of the people. When the people speak, as they did in the general election, it is our sacred duty to pay heed.
Self-criticism is not an expression of defeatism. It is an avenue of renewal. Let us remember that our forward march has only been interrupted; it has not been stymied.
As party president, my priority is to mould the BJP into a battle-worthy organisation capable of taking on the challenges of the Congress and the Left, both on the ideological and political fronts. Collectively, we will set the stage for a resounding NDA majority in the 15th Lok Sabha.
Assault on our ideology
For the BJP, the coming days will be challenging. The UPA Government, backed by the Communists, have launched a concerted attack on our ideology. In the guise of de-toxification, it has endorsed a witch-hunt against those who were appointed to public posts by the NDA Government. The process has begun at the Centre and is certain to percolate to the states.
Simultaneously, national heroes like Veer Savarkar from whom we take inspiration have been denigrated and even vilified. History is being re-written to suit the preferences of those who can scarcely conceal their contempt for the heritage of India. Let us not forget the calumny that was heaped on national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose by the Communists in the past.
The message of the ruling coalition is clear: any association with the BJP and its ideology is not to be tolerated.
Although the behaviour of the UPA goes against all democratic norms, there is something about its intolerance that I find redeeming. Our opponents have grudgingly acknowledged what we have always maintained: the backbone of the BJP is its ideology.
Defining our ideology
Ideology is what gives the BJP its distinctive identity. We are a party with a difference precisely because we are firmly wedded to a set of core beliefs. Our political priorities, strategies and tactics may be fashioned by the issues of the day but our ideology remains constant.
The BJP is first and foremost a nation-first party. We are a party of nationalism. Our politics is determined by the litmus test of what is good and desirable for the nation.
The BJP is the party of cultural nationalism. We believe that Indian nationhood stems from an underlying cultural oneness. Some of us call this sense of nationhood Hindutva; Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya also called it Bharatiyata.
I am saddened that from being a description of the core of our nationhood, Hindutva has been misrepresented to denote a political approach. Hindutva is a sentiment; it is neither an electoral slogan nor should it be confused with religion. It is the description of a way of life, an idea that carries the endorsement of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in a judgement dated December 11, 1995, observed :
"...no precise meaning can be ascribed to the terms Hindu, Hindutva and Hinduism; and no meaning in the abstract can confine it to the narrow limits of religion alone, excluding the content of Indian culture and heritage. It is also indicated that the term Hindutva is related more to the way of life of the people in the subcontinent. It is difficult to appreciate how in the face of these (earlier Supreme Court) decisions the term Hindutva or Hinduism per se, in the abstract, can be assumed to mean and be equated with narrow fundamentalist Hindu religious bigotry."
Finally, the BJP is committed to Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya's elucidation of integral humanism. We are governed by the belief that development must blend harmoniously with tradition and the environment. We believe that the economic foundations of India should not be built on over-consumption, waste and ecological destruction. We believe in decentralisation, deregulation, harmony and social justice.
For the past few years, I have often heard it said that the party has abandoned its ideology.
In 1974, when the Jana Sangh agreed to join the movement led by Loknayak Jayaprakash Narayan, there were many internal doubts. Some of our leaders questioned the wisdom of accepting the leadership of a man whose earlier views on Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland were sharply at variance with ours.
Likewise in 1998 when we joined hands with other regional parties to launch the NDA, the BJP was again accused of abandoning its ideology. This time the fears arose from the fact that the repeal of Article 370, the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya and the commitment to a uniform civil code did not feature in the National Agenda for Governance.
Committed to ideology
The fears are unfounded. Ideology is a commitment to certain principles. It is what defines our approach to political questions. The political priorities of the day are, however, determined by other considerations and need a context.
It was the Congress party's reversal of the Shah Bano judgment in 1985 that provided us the cue for our campaign to expose pseudo-secularism. The campaign was bolstered in 1989 when we joined the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation initiated by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Ayodhya was the shining example of the double standards of the so-called "secular" establishment in matters relating to Hindus.
Ram temple will be built
A great deal has changed since the day I began the Somnath to Ayodhya rath yatra 14 years ago. On the face of it, the temple in Ayodhya remains caught in an infuriatingly complex legal tangle. Political parties pay lip service to the need for a judicial verdict because it saves them the embarrassment of exercising a choice. Our "eminent historians" prefer to look the other way when confronted with the archaeological evidence of a temple that predated the Babri Masjid.
Yet, the environment that made Ayodhya the most potent mass movement in post-Independent India has changed.
The Ayodhya movement ensured that Hindus can no longer be either taken for granted or their sentiments blatantly disregarded.
Bane of minorityism
Minorityism and vote-bank politics is still practiced by the Congress but its form has undergone a change. It is now more surreptitious and silent so as to forestall any countervailing mobilisation. Yet the country would do well to recognise the persistence of the phenomenon and be alert to it.
The intemperate reaction to the BJP's proposal for institutionalising the two-child norm is just one example of how sectarian considerations play havoc with the nation's progress.
Our commitment to the Ram temple in Ayodhya is intact and unwavering. It was reiterated in the Vision Document 2004. The nation eagerly looks forward to the day the makeshift temple at Ram Janmabhoomi is replaced by a structure befitting the greatness of Lord Ram.
At the same time, we must be candid enough to recognise that the Hindu anger that exploded on the streets in the early-Nineties has given way to a patient wait for the new temple whose construction is, I feel, inevitable.
The issue extends beyond the Ram temple. A cogent and enlightened Hindu approach to the modern world demands a Hindu Renaissance much along the lines Swami Vivekananda envisaged.
Farmers, Tribals and Dalits
The past five years has witnessed important shifts in the political priorities of the people. In demographic terms our population has become younger. As a responsive party the BJP must take the lead in articulating their aspirations, in an idiom they are familiar with.
There are social groups and communities who now aggressively seek a stake in the power structure. They must be accommodated in the decision-making structures of the party. Our political approach has to be decisively inclusive.
We are, first and foremost, a party with deep roots in the villages of India. The overwhelming majority of our MPs and MLAs represent rural constituencies. We have to articulate the concerns and champion the interests of India's kisans.
The BJP has a proud record of having the largest number of MPs from Dalit and tribal communities. Organisations linked to our parivar are involved in education and other welfare schemes aimed at the empowerment of tribals. Party functionaries must play a role in these important nation-building initiatives.
We must not become prisoners of our own past. We have to press ahead, mindful of our commitment to the people, the future of the country and our own ideology.
Duties as opposition
Today we are the leading opposition party. Along with our partners in the NDA, we form a substantial bloc in both Houses of Parliament. However, we are a different opposition party from the one we were prior to 1998. We are today an opposition party with a rich experience in governance. We are perceived as the shadow government.
We must fulfil our opposition responsibilities with vigour and energy but we must also conduct ourselves with dignity and responsibility. The positions we take must be well-considered and thorough.
In addition, the BJP state governments must be mindful of the quality of governance they provide.
The UPA Government may have a commanding majority in Parliament but it is not a stable government as Shri Vajpayee's government was in the preceding five years. Stability does not merely come from numbers. It also stems from the quality of governance.
The Manmohan Singh Government is yet to come to terms with its own contradictions. The Left parties have a retrograde agenda; the regional parties have their own priorities; and the Congress is caught between two power centres.
This is not a stable government. This is a fragile arrangement which may either limp through its tenure or collapse abruptly. Either way, the consequences for India are not encouraging.
In such a situation, the BJP must be ready for all eventualities. We must keep the unity of the NDA firmly intact and coordinate our responses. We must seize all opportunities to put a disparate government on the mat but we must do so with the awareness that the people are also scrutinising our responses and our conduct.
Terrorism and security
Heading the list of national problems we must focus on is terrorism and security.
The civil unrest in Manipur, the threats posed by insurgent groups in the North-east and the demographic transformation of the whole of eastern India through illegal migration from Bangladesh are matters of deep concern to us.
The shameful appeasement of left-wing extremists by the Congress Government in Andhra Pradesh has compromised law and order in neighbouring states and given a fillip to insurgency in Nepal. The manner in which the Naxalites are being glamourised is quite reprehensible.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the UPA has failed to take the internal dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference to the next level and terrorist strikes have resumed.
Economy and the people
Second, the focus of the nation is on the economy. The Vajpayee Government bequeathed to the UPA a vibrant economy that was the envy of even the developed economies. We are concerned that this inheritance will be squandered through fiscal profligacy, high taxation, inflation and wasteful expenditure.
We will highlight the problems of the farmers, the informal sector, the middle classes, the unemployed youth and industrial labour. The growing suicides of farmers in Andhra Pradesh are a matter of deep concern. Between January 1 and May 15 this year, there were 30 suicides; from May 16 to October 20 the number has touched 1603.
Our alternative vision
We are committed to deregulation but we will insist that the terms of globalisation don't leave the people of India vulnerable.
Third, we will resist all violations of democratic norms. The UPA Government, egged on by the Left, has revealed a strongly intolerant streak. It is our fear that this partisan conduct could lead to distortions in the federal structure of India.
Finally, and most important, we will highlight our alternative vision of India as a Great Power secure in its nationhood. Whether in economic decision-making, approaches to national security and the conduct of foreign policy, the BJP remains committed to a vibrant and resurgent India. Our objective is to make India a developed nation by 2020. That is our political mission statement.
The challenges before the BJP are formidable and in the past few days the expectations from me have touched dizzying heights. For five decades, I have been a dedicated soldier for a project that was initiated by Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, nurtured by Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya and carried to lofty heights by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. At the same time, I take my inspiration from the selfless patriotism of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Together, they have given me the strength and the courage to undertake difficult journeys.
The journey ahead I assure you will be daunting. It will require all the perseverance, dedication and the collective wisdom of all the karyakartas and the goodwill of our entire parivar. Above all, it will need selfless teamwork.
On the past four occasions you honoured me with the post of BJP president, I was fortunate in receiving the unwavering commitment from every wing of the party and parivar. I seek no less this time too.
Today, as I undertake this responsibility once again, I would also like to emphasise an additional obligation that has come my way.
For the past three decades, I have had the great honour to work in partnership with the tallest leader of the BJP-Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It has been a relationship based on implicit trust and mutual respect. Our styles have differed and we have often deferred to each other's wishes but we have always sought to complement each other. A section of the media painted us as rivals. We saw it as a partnership, with Shri Vajpayee the senior leader.
It is this spirit of partnership and mutual accommodation that I wish to commend to the party.
A bright future
I am mindful that in the natural course the baton of responsibility will be passed on to my colleagues who have age on their side. The BJP is an army spanning the generations, the regions of India and every social stratum. It is an army blessed with ideological orientation, talent and commitment to the party. Those who occupy senior leadership posts today have decades of involvement, struggle and sacrifice behind them.
We have no fear of the future because we have nurtured the future from the ranks. This is what distinguishes us. This is what makes the BJP a party with a difference.
The BJP was founded in 1980. In two months our party will enter its silver jubilee year. I do not know of any other political party in the entire democratic world which in just 25 years has registered such spectacular growth as the BJP.
Let us today resolve to make 2005 a memorable milestone of our journey.
Let us build on our strengths. Let the BJP become the model and inspiration for good governance, good politics and good politicians. Let us re-dedicate ourselves to the service of the Motherland.