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September 25, 1999


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The Rediff Election Specials/ Savera R Someshwar

'I am the only candidate you can call on a local phone'

Balraj Pasi The emergency ward at the local hospital in Haldwani, Nainital, Uttar Pradesh. BJP nominee, 38-year-old Balraj Pasi, rushes in, followed by an entourage of a dozen supporters. "Where is he?"

The 'he', in this case, happened to be Baladutt Jagdal. A young BJP worker injured when he jeep he was travelling in turned turtle. A startled nurse pointed out to a far corner at the end of the long room.

"Kaise ho?" He looked at Jagdal whose face was swathed in bloodsoaked bandages and wrinkles of pain. In direct contravention to hospital rules, his bed was surrounded by a host of BJP workers who attempted to prevent Jagdal from sitting up and greeting his leader.

Pasi stared down at the supine form on the bed. "How are the doctors? Are you having any problems here?"

Someone murmured in the negative. Jagdal, it was obvious, was in agony. In the gloomy, long, rectangular room, the other patients whispered curiously. "Who's he?"

"Don't worry," said Pasi. "You will be okay soon." And strode out. Straight into the nurses' cabin next door.

"Where's the doctor? I want to speak to him right now."

A few confused minutes later, the doctor was at hand.

"How's he?"

The doctor ruffled through some papers. "Seems okay."

"Is there any cause for worry?"

Some more shuffling. "No. He is in pain, but he will recover soon."

Pasi was running late. He was scheduled to be at Rudrapur, 30-odd km from Haldwani at five pm, in readiness for Pramod Mahajan who was scheduled to address a gathering here. There were only 15 minutes to go. He slammed the car door. The siren began to wail. We raced towards Rudrapur.

The election is a homecoming for Pasi, who has represented the constituency from 1991 to 1996, defeating Congress veteran N D Tiwari. He did not contest the 1996 poll and the the BJP awarded the 1998 ticket to K C Pant's wife, Ila. "I worked very hard and she won, beating Tiwariji," says Pasi. "The party took note of my dedication and awarded me the ticket this time."

The BJP's media manager took the opportunity to remind us that Pasi contested the election for the first time only after the BJP leaders decided, in 1989, that younger blood should be brought to the forefront.

Prior to this Pasi, a serious RSS man, had dedicated himself to popularising the movement in the area. "For many years, I handled the zilla level responsibilities for the Sangh. During the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, I was the organiser for the Bajrang Dal in the entire Kumaon region."

Which makes him anathema for SP nominee, Muzzaffar Ali who joined active politics after "the barbaric demolition of the Babri Masjid." But a similar chord runs through both; both believe that the youth are with them.

A point that Pasi pressed home when, earlier in the evening, he stopped off at Hotel Swagat to update the press on his position at the hustings.

It was a strange experience. Pasi spoke with long pauses, and as if he was addressing one of his election meetings.

"It is clear," he began, "that the BJP has no rival, though the SP, the BSP and the Congress are trying hard to fight us."

He went on to recall how, on nomination day, the record-breaking rainfall in the area was only matched by the massive, all caste and community crowd that had turned to the streets in support of the BJP. How there were representatives from every panchayat in the constituency. How the Sikhs and Muslims participated in large numbers. How every meeting he was addressing was a tremendous success. How everyone wanted to see Atal Bihari Vajpayee as prime minister. How the other candidates were outsiders. How accessible he was.

Pasi's main plank is accessibility. "I am the only candidate you can call on a local phone. To talk to the others you have to make STD calls to Lucknow (Muzzaffar Ali), Delhi (N D Tiwari) and Bombay (Naina Ahmed)."

He dinned home the fact, even as MP, he was easily accessible and that he had toured 90 per cent of his villages. As for more concrete achievements, none were listed. But there was a promise that this time round, all problems would be redressed.

There was even more dinning when he listed, what he insisted, were Tiwari's cardinal sins -- his obsession with Delhi, his covert support of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the lack of developmental work in the constituency.

Uttaranchal was not mentioned. Not until a reporter with a belligerent pro-Uttarakhand stand raised the issue. "It will be formed. We have already introduced the bill in parliament. The problem is some people who have political ambitions are scaring the people of the plains, saying that all their property and land will be taken from them and given to the pahadis. I am from the Terai, I have been touring the plains and assured them this will not happen. If their rights are infringed upon in any way, then my workers and I will stand in their defence."

So when will the new state be formed? "Soon."

How soon? "Very soon."

Which is? "Six months. Eight at the most."

There is the usual grateful paean to Vajpayee and Kargil. "We are benefiting tremendously because of Vajpayee. Because of him both the floating votes and the undecided votes -- which amount to 15 to 20 per cent of the total -- will come us. Everyone wants Vajpayee as prime minister." As a result, he expects to win by a margin of 50,000 votes.

The mandatory Sonia-bashing, though, was reserved for a more public stand, the 10,000 audience gathered for the Mahajan meet in Rudrapur. "The Congress can make Benazir Bhutto their leader, we don't have a problem with that. That is their compulsion. But we are not compelled to make her prime minister."

He moved on to attack Ahmed, Ali and Tiwari but, just as he was building up steam, Mahajan arrived. The man at the mike attempted to welcome him. At the other mike, Pasi quickly converted his speech into a welcome message. In the deluge of the words that took place no one, least of all Mahajan, could understand what was happening.

An irritated Pasi glared at the man at the mike. "Ho gaya swagat," he said with finality.

Mahajan took the stage. What he said, though, is a story for another day.

Photographs: Jewella C Miranda


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The Rediff Election Specials

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