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BJP To Carry Campaign Message of Hindu Nationalism - 2002-12-23

India's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party said the message of its Hindu ideology will be carried to voters throughout the country. The party is holding a two-day meeting in New Delhi to plan strategy ahead of elections in several states.

Bharatiya Janata Party president Venkaiah Naidu said his party will carry its message of Hindu nationalism to several states that are due to choose regional assemblies next year.

The party's morale has been boosted by its recent landslide victory in a key election in western Gujarat state. The party had campaigned on a right-wing Hindu platform, saying only the BJP could protect the state from radical Muslim militants sponsored by Pakistan. The impressive Gujarat win sparked a debate on whether the party will adopt the same policy in the rest of the country.

The BJP will "replicate our Gujarat experience everywhere," Mr. Naidu said. But he stressed that the BJP's Hindu ideology did not mean intolerance toward any religion. "We must go for a nationwide campaign taking the message of Gujarat across the country, that there should not be discrimination on the basis of religion, appeasement for none, justice for all - this should be the motto," Mr. Naidu said.

Mr. Naidu also asked hardline affiliates of the party to shun extremism.

The Gujarat elections were held in the wake of religious violence that swept the state after 58 Hindu activists were killed in a train fire allegedlly started by a Muslim mob earlier in the year. The incident triggered clashes in which nearly 1,000 people were killed. The BJP chief minister in Gujarat, Narendra Modi had been blamed by human rights groups for not doing enough to stop the violence. During the recent Gujarat elections, critics also accused Mr. Modi of trying to divide voters along religious lines.

The party has refuted the criticism, saying it is only advocating a tough policy of safeguarding national security and fighting terrorism.

BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley said the party had won not just a political, but an ideological victory in Gujarat. "The Gujarat election victory is an ideological victory because very rarely in the national polity so clearly polarized on ideological grounds in state assembly elections," Mr. Jaitley said.

The BJP leads the federal coalition. Besides getting ready for state elections, the party is also preparing its strategy for national elections due in 2004.