February 16, 2002
2000 IST



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'The overriding emotion in Punjab's border areas is anger against politicians'

Election 2002

From February 7, correspondents have been on the campaign trail in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur and Uttaranchal, as also in Guna, Mirzapur, Rajkot, Tripura West and Andipatti. Here they reply to some of the queries from readers. To know more about this section, click to Ask our reporters.

Dear Prem,

Is it an election gimmick that the VHP and BJP have raised the Ram Mandir issue just before the polls? The VHP seems to be arousing Hindu sentiments to secure the Hindu vote, while the BJP tries to keep the NDA intact by issuing contradictory statements. What do you think will be the outcome?

Dr K Sundar Shetty

Prem Panicker replies: I wouldn't want to fall into the trap of spending 24 hours in a place like Ayodhya-Faizabad and then presuming to know the ramifications of the VHP-BJP plans in the temple issue.

However, I spent a good four hours this morning walking the bylanes of Ayodhya, and more time in Faizabad, just talking to people. And for obvious reasons, inevitably asked for their reactions to the Ayodhya temple issue.

Here, the mood is cynical. Many are, at a religious level, in favour of a temple for Ram. At the same time, they are quick to point out that they are not in favour of anything at all that will ruin the atmosphere here. Quite a few people argued that it has taken Ayodhya quite a while to recover from the incidents of 1990-92, and no one wants a repeat.

Further, the vast majority of those I spoke to felt that the temple is merely an issue for the VHP and its various arms to bring up as and when it suits them -- surprisingly, most of the people did not believe that any kind of construction, even on undisputed land, would take place on March 15, unless the BJP was defeated and some other party assumed power.

Dear Prem,

Can you please ask the VHP-BJP guys who are all on the mosque-razing, temple-building bandwagon, why they do not follow the true tenets of Hinduism and embrace vanvaas after the age of 50? Why do they plague us with their presence in politics?

C Selod

Prem replies: Can I take a pass on this question? For two reasons -- one, useless though my life is, I would like it to continue for a while longer.

Secondly, nowhere in the 'tenets of Hinduism' is it mandated that you take vanvaas after 50 years. Vaanaprastham, which is what you are thinking of, is supposed to be the culmination of your life, a period when, having accomplished all that you set out to in this life, you then retire from the world, to contemplate, meditate, and prepare for the after-life.

Age has nothing to do with it -- as I am sure those leaders will gleefully point out to me, if I were silly enough to ask that question.

Then again, vanvaas is what Dashrath made Ram take, and if you want the politicians to do that, the electorate has to vote them out.

Dear Sharat,

I would like to know the names of the candidates from Khatauli and Hapur seat. Who is going to win these two seats?

Rajeev Swami

Sharat Pradhan replies: Hapur has 10 candidates in the fray, including Ramswarup Bharti of the BJP, Gajraj Singh of the Congress, Dharam Pal of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Ram Niwas of the Samajwadi Party. The rest happen to be from smaller parties and two independents. The possibility here is of the BSP taking the lead.

As for Khatauli, there are 12 contestants, including six independents. The BJP has not fielded anyone; it has left the seat to its ally, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, led by Ajit Singh. Rajpal Singh Baliyan is the Lok Dal nominee; the Samajwadi Party nominee is Pramod Tyagi; the Congress has fielded Ashok Kumar; and the Bahujan Samaj Party, Akram Khan. The main contest here will be between the BSP and Lok Dal.

Dear Basharat,

What is the trend in western Uttar Pradesh? How do you think the BJP will perform with its alliance partner, the RLD?


Basharat Peer replies: There is no clear mandate here. The equation differs in every constituency. I do not think the BJP will do badly; it will be a close fight. The Samajwadi Party should do quite well in many constituencies, and so should the BSP.

I feel that Kalyan Singh will do some damage to the BJP, which will help its main opponent, the SP. The alliance the BJP has entered into with the Rashtriya Lok Dal is proving helpful to it in the Jat belt.

Dear Josy,

Do you think the Punjabis have forgotten Operation Blue Star? And do you think if the Congress comes to power, it will fuel the Khalistan movement again?

Seema G

Josy Joseph replies: Punjab has not, and will not, forget Operation Blue Star. It is a terrible scar in its history.

As is human nature, Punjab is trying to get over it. And it has been successful to a great extent -- a fact that is visible from the way it used to look in the 1980s and what it looks today.

No, I don't think there is any reason to believe that Congress rule would fuel the Khalistan movement. The demand for a separate Punjab is behind us, it is history.

Hello Joseph,

I am from Punjab, a small town called Malerkotla in Sangrur. Now I am away in Bombay for my studies. But as a resident of that area, I am very much interested in what is going to happen in my state. I want to know specifically about:

  1. The pitch of the contest in my own town, Malerkotla.
  2. In the last few months, the SAD-BJP government had announced many sops to please the business class. What has been the effect of this on voters?
  3. From December on, there has been tremendous tension on the Indo-Pak border in Punjab. There is criticism that neither the Centre nor the state government has handled the situation effectively. What effect will it have on the voters of those areas?

Josy replies: I did not visit the Sangrur area. I wish I had received your email while I was in Punjab, I would surely have visited your place.

Then, sops are part of our political scenario. If the SAD-BJP front has been trying to please the business class, the Congress has announced sops for the entire Punjab in their election manifesto.

Some voters, definitely, would vote for the sops they have received. But this time in Punjab, and luckily for the common people, corruption has taken centre-stage in the polls. And that's what the SAD-BJP combine has to beat to remain in power.

About the situation in villages, yes, it is very bad. The villagers who left, whose fields have been destroyed by mines, whose lives have been disrupted, haven't received any assistance from the government. This has angered them. Old-timers point out that in the wars of 1965 and 1971, the governments had helped them, but not this time. And so, the over-riding emotion here is anger against politicians.

Dear Sheela,

What do you think will be the outcome of the UP election?


Sheela Bhatt replies: I wouldn't want to stick my neck out so far at this juncture! It is possible that the Samajwadi Party, together with the Leftists, Congress, Kalyan Singh and Apna Dal will manage to form the government. Or the BJP and Mayawati together. The situation is too fluid for any prediction.
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