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|August 20, 1999||
In UP people will vote for Vajpayee, not BJP
Sharat Pradhan in Varanasi
The Bharatiya Janata Party may be among the front-runners in the forthcoming Lok Sabha election, but for all practical purposes it is the party's start campaigner, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who means everything to the voter.
Even in India's religious and cultural capital, Varanasi, where BJP has held the Parliamentary seat for the past two general elections, it is not the party nominee, but Vajpayee whose name sells.
It was no wonder, therefore, that Vajpayee drew a mammoth crowd as he flew in here to kick off his party's election campaign on Tuesday. The gathering was in sharp contrast to the attendance at Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's rally here last month. And the crowds made it quite evident that they had come to listen to Vajpayee and no one else.
As Vajpayee focused on Kargil, highlighting the valour and success of the Indian defence forces, the crowd applauded. He received a standing ovation as he ascended the strairs leading to the dias, amidst cries of 'Jai Shree Ram' and 'Har-Har Mahadev'.
The common voter in Varanasi does not even recognise the BJP nominee Shankar Prasad Jaiswal, even though he has been the sitting MP for the past two terms. ''I do not know Jaiswal, neither am I any fan of the BJP. But, since it is to make Atal Bihari Vajpayee the country's prime minister, I will vote for BJP candidates,'' said Shyamu, a rickshaw-puller.
Vikram, a restaurant waiter, too has no word of praise for the sitting MP. ''He is like any other MP, who forgets the voters once the elections are over. But my vote will got to Atalji.''
Even traditional BJP supporters do not see Jaiswal as a capable nominee. 'There's no denying that Jaiswal has failed to live up to our expectations. Nothing has been done for the development of this city, but right now we are quiet because the larger goal before us is to see Atalji back in the saddle,'' disclosed a local party functionary.
This ancient Hindu city is a classic example of gross neglect and apathy. Nobody knows where the money from the local MP's fund has been going. ''You can see that nobody is thinking of development. The roads are bad, there are no street lights and power cuts are frequent,'' pointed out Shiv Charan, a shopkeeper.
At the rally, the key speakers, including Chief Minister Kalyan Singh and state BJP unit chief Raj Nath Singh, did not care to introduce the party nominee nor was he given a chance to speak. Only towards the end of his 28-minute speech, did Vajpayee make a mention of Jaiswal.
Considering that Varanasi is regarded as the key representative constituency of eastern Uttar Pradesh, with as many as 27 of UP's 85 Lok Sabha constituencies, the mood here is representative of the entire state.
In the neighbouring Parliamentary constituency - the famous Mirzapur- Badohi carpet belt - the sitting MP Veerendra Singh's record is no better than that of Jaiswal. Still, the voters will vote for him because - Vajpayee must win.
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