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In Uttar Pradesh, Vajpayee is BJP's trump card

Ajay Singh in Lucknow | May 05, 2004 19:11 IST

Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The name sells. There's no denying this. Even the urban middle-class, frustrated by the state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh, concedes this.

A practising doctor Smriti Anand, on her way from Varanasi to Lucknow, blasts the 'feel good' campaign of the National Democratic Alliance government, but concedes that she has no choice but to vote for Vajpayee.

"What is `feel good' about all this," she asks, gesturing at the dank railway compartment and the parched land outside. "I don't feel good about paying bribes to government officials and electricity workers for doing their job," she adds.

She'd set up a nursing home in Varanasi and made the mistake of believing she could do it without paying bribes.

"Nothing has changed, if you visit Varanasi you will know. You can't blame it all on Mulayam Singh Yadav, the BJP was also a part of this because it joined a government in collaboration with Mayawati," she says.

But, she concedes that she may have to vote for the BJP as there is no alternative to Vajpayee. "I can't vote either for Mulayam or Sonia," she says.

In a state ravaged by corruption and poverty the only thing remotely resembling a shine is the faint glimmer that surrounds Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's name.

The BJP's strategists are pinning their hopes on the belief in a section of the electorate that there is no alternative to Vajpayee. A senior BJP leader said Vajpayee's personal charm might turn the tide in the BJP's favour in certain constituencies.

That Vajpayee's charm works even in the rural areas is illustrated by a real story in circulation in Varanasi. Apparently, a housewife received a phone call from the Prime Minister - a part of the high-tech campaign launched by the BJP's campaign managers.

And even before the recorded voice of Vajpayee proceeded from the introduction to narrating the government's achievements in the past five years, the housewife launched on her tale of woes, about rising prices and her unemployed sons.

This story does not only highlight the irrelevance of the India Shining campaign in the state, it also proves the fact that even villagers relate to Vajpayee easily.

"People don't relate to Sonia Gandhi or Mulayam the way they do with Vajpayee," said a professor at the Benaras Hindu University.

This fact was further underlined in a village in the district, which is dominated by Other Backward Classes, especially Kurmis. Here some households had put up BJP flags signalling a break from the past when they would have voted for the Samajwadi Party.

"We want to see Vajpayee as prime minister," says one of the villagers. This is clearly a deviation from the existing trend of OBC voters opting for leaders from their own castes.

Even national-level BJP leaders, who have travelled across the state, say though it is difficult to quantify Vajpayee's appeal in electoral terms, the BJP can retain or increase its previous tally only if people caste their votes for Vajpayee in the country's largest state.

Keeping this in view, the BJP plans to launch its campaign in western Uttar Pradesh with renewed vigour for the last phase of the Lok Sabha elections. Its slogan: Kaho dil se, Atal phir se.

The party has no choice.

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