In a rare statement seen as his parting shot meant for the current BJP leadership ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, party veteran L K Advani has said that the BJP never regarded its adversaries as “enemies” or “anti-national”.
In the statement Thursday on his blog ostensibly to mark BJP’s Foundation Day on April 6, and meant “more specifically” for the millions of BJP workers, the 91-year-old founding member of the party said that respect for diversity and freedom of expression is the essence of Indian democracy.
“Right from its inception, the BJP has never regarded those who disagree with us politically as our ‘enemies’, but only as our adversaries. Similarly, in our conception of Indian nationalism, we have never regarded those who disagree with us politically as ‘anti-national’,” said the party veteran whose Lok Sabha constituency Gandhinagar has gone to party present Amit Shah.
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“Anti-national” and “enemies” have been a refrain in BJP’s election campaign rhetoric with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying terrorists and Pakistan wanted him to lose and the Opposition to win. On Wednesday, he said that the Congress manifesto was a blueprint for Pakistan’s conspiracies. BJP president Amit Shah, too, has often referred to the Opposition as talking or acting to favour Pakistan.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, slamming the Congress’s manifesto, said that parts of it seemed as if they were written by the “tukde tukde gang” and would lead to the Balkanisation of India. UP CM Yogi Adityanath at a rally on Thursday said the Congress was playing into the hands of anti-nationals.
Modi tweeted a link to Advani’s blog and wrote: “Advani Ji perfectly sums up the true essence of BJP, most notably the guiding Mantra of ‘Nation First, Party Next, Self Last.’ Proud to be a BJP Karyakarta and proud that greats like LK Advani Ji have strengthened it.”
This is the second instance that the most prominent face of the party’s old guard issued a public statement that can be seen as a message to the leadership of the Modi-Shah duo.
In 2015, right after the BJP’s resounding defeat in the Bihar Assembly elections, the party’s “Margdarshak Mandal” led by Advani put out a statement blaming the Modi-Shah leadership for the electoral reverses in Delhi and Bihar.
“To say that everyone is responsible for the defeat in Bihar is to ensure that no one is held responsible. It shows that those who would have appropriated credit if the Party had won are bent on shrugging off responsibility for the disastrous showing in Bihar,” said the statement signed by Advani, Yashwant Sinha, Murli Manohar Joshi and Shanta Kumar. The statement had called for a review of the electoral reverses to be done not by the “very persons who have managed and been responsible for the campaign in Bihar.”
In what is expected to be fodder for more Opposition attack in the election season, Thursday’s statement — Advani called it his “reflections” aimed at the people of India — touches upon subjects on which the BJP government has often faced criticism from its detractors: respect for democratic institutions, transparency in electoral funding and freedom of speech and expression.
Citing the BJP’s fight against the Emergency, he said: “Defence of democracy and democratic traditions, both within the Party and in the larger national setting, has been the proud hallmark of the BJP.” He added that the BJP has always demanded protection of independence, integrity, fairness and robustness of “all our democratic institutions, including the media.”
The six-time MP from Gandhinagar, Advani has been the BJP’s longest serving president. Several party seniors have on record cited Advani’s age for his omission. In the grand show of strength organised last week at the filing of nomination of Shah in Gandhinagar, posters of Advani were conspicuous by their absence. Shah has termed his candidature as carrying forward Advani’s legacy.
“… I take this opportunity to convey my most sincere gratitude to the people of Gandhinagar, who have elected me to the Lok Sabha six times since 1991. Their love and support has always overwhelmed me,” he said, adding, “The guiding principle of my life has been ‘Nation First, Party Next, Self Last.’ And in all situations, I have tried to adhere to this principle and will continue to do so.”
In the run-up to the election, Advani called for “honest introspection”.
“…elections are… also an occasion for honest introspection by all the stakeholders in Indian democracy – political parties, mass media, authorities conducting the election process and, above all, the electorate,” he said.