The irony of the situation could not be missed. BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav had in his immediate reaction to the terrorist attack on an Army camp in Uri demanded ‘complete jaw for one tooth’. And in a move that raised eyebrows, he was asked to speak about the ‘Garib Kalyan’ agenda on the first day of the party’s National Council meeting, held in Kozhikode, Kerala, from September 23 to 25. Madhav’s main task was to bring the focus back onto the theme of the meet and he was required to be restrained in his comments on the action against Pakistan. The strongest words that the media could elicit from him on Pakistan were, “Do you want only statements or action? Action is taking place and will take place.”
In the idyllic environs of Kozhikode, the shadow of the Uri attack loomed large and it threatened to divert attention from the main agenda of the meeting—reorienting the party towards politics of ‘Garib Kalyan’ (social justice and empowerment of the downtrodden) and linking it to the legacy of Bharatiya Jana Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya.
Leaders were aware that there was pressure on the party and on the government to walk the tough talk that they had earlier done on tackling Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. The prime minister is being riled by his political opponents for the aggressive comments he made about dealing with Pakistan in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
Senior party functionaries, including Madhav, Bhupender Yadav and Muralidhar Rao, worked on the draft for Modi’s speech, but, sources said, the prime minister had conveyed that he would decide what he would say on Pakistan. At the rally in Kozhikode, Modi was aggressive and visibly angry as he attacked Pakistan. He vowed that the nation would not forget and forgive the killing of soldiers in the Uri attack. However, he did a balancing act by countering the aggression with a clear message that war was not an option.
“There is no difference between what the prime minister has said earlier and what he is doing now,” said BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain. “Ours is a big country; it is the fastest growing economy in the world. We are highly regarded on the global stage. There was an expectation that India take the initiative, and it was to fulfil this expectation that Modiji reached out to Pakistan. No one can now say that we did not give Pakistan a chance to talk and improve relations.”
In Kozhikode, the BJP, which prides itself on its aggressive brand of nationalism, looked very keen to prioritise ‘Garib Kalyan’ over nationalistic sentiment. BJP president Amit Shah, in his meeting with party office bearers, did not touch upon Pakistan, focusing instead on the need for the BJP governments to intensify implementation of the 80 welfare schemes of the Centre in the coming one year, which has been declared as ‘Garib Kalyan Varsh’.
One reason for having the meeting in Kozhikode was to project the pro-poor agenda as Upadhyaya’s legacy. It was here that Upadhyaya was elected president of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the forerunner of the BJP, in 1967. The BJP wants to be seen as a party that cares for the poor, the farmer, the dalit, the adivasi and the worker. This marks a reorientation of the party’s policies, as the BJP has traditionally been seen as a more urban phenomenon with a largely middle class support base. This could be because of the upcoming assembly elections in 2017 and 2018 and the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.
BJP leader Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, who was programme coordinator for the National Council, said: “Narendra Modi is the architect of Indian aspiration. He has democratised aspiration in India. Political lexicon now has a new formulation called Garib Kalyan.”