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October 2, 1999


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All the prime minister's men

A Ganesh Nadar in Lucknow

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee cannot be interested in the mundane details of fighting an election and that too for himself. He is the star campaigner of his party. He has to campaign all over the country and therefore canvassing for him has to be done by others. And who are these people?

They are not only party workers but those who have been associated with him for many years -- those who love him so much that he is willing to trust them with this enviable task. People who can ensure that there is no embarrassment, who can make sure that the prime minister wins from his constituency by the greatest possible margin. presents the task force that will see him through, the chosen few of Atal Bihari Vajpayee:

Shiv Kumar is a comfortable looking man with a big moustache. He is sharp and points out that he is not the prime minister's personal assistant or his associate, but a humble worker.

The election strategy of this chosen few is elaborate. They have a letter personally signed by Vajpayee, a folder listing his achievements and future plans, a photo of the electronic voting machine with an arrow showing which button you are supposed to punch and a photo of Vajpayee behind which is the year 2000 calendar. This entire bunch has been given to every house in the constituency.

They have been campaigning from house to house where they have met every individual voter. There is a group of party workers who just put up banners, flags and posters. The constituency has been separated into blocks and each segment has a man in charge with his own assistants.

BJP MLAs are supposed to supervise the campaigning in their respective segments. There are also corporators, panchayat chairmen, village presidents and ward members looking after their own areas. On election day there will be polling agents and others entrusted with the task of bringing the voters to the booths.

Shiv Kumar has been here since nomination day. ''Actually we started our campaign on nomination day itself. There was such a huge crowd that we made an appeal there itself. We told the crowd that as the PM has to campaign in the whole country they shouldn't feel that he isn't giving them sufficient importance,'' he says.

He is expecting the margin of victory to be in the vicinity of 200, 000 to 300, 000. The problem of Mahona village he dismisses by saying, "there are only 12,000 voters there and 60 per cent are Muslims who won't vote for us anyway and therefore now we cannot do anything. We will look into why they boycotted the election later. Kalyan Singh is our chief minister and he is doing his bit for the election; we are a cadre based party and it's the media which is playing up non-existent differences.''

He says that Vajpayee does not need others to canvass for him but what can they do if people insist on working for him. He dismisses the interest in Priyanka as curiosity which will not translate into votes. After the election, he says he and Lalji Tandon will look after the constituency for the prime minister.

Lalji Tandon is a minister in the state government. He is also a BJP patriarch. He has been involved in every Vajpayee campaign. Their relationship goes back to the Jan Sangh days. He is vocal and a known detractor of Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.

At a local public meeting that Kalyan Singh addressed he was missing. When contacted by the press he said he had not come because his name was not mentioned in that meeting. It required a Lal Kishenchand Advani to convince both Kalyan Singh and Lalji Tandon to appear on the same stage with Vajpayee. Tandon told, "We have groups of people taking out rallies to canvass for Vajpayeeji; there are traders, women, Dalits and others also doing their bit for him."

According to him Vajpayee comes here through out the year so his absence during the election will not matter. ''Atalji never bothers about minor issues, but on major issues we do consult him; wherever he is in the country, he is available to us. He is very accessible to us," he reveals, and adds, ''till today it is a one way street. There is a psychological war on. It is very tough for his opponents. He is sure that the margin of victory will increase this time.''

Tandon admits that "people are unhappy with the BJP on local issues (read Kalyan Singh) but they say that they have no quarrel with Vajpayeeji. He has attracted every caste and community and that includes the minorities. He knows many of the people by their first name.''

On Sakshi Maharaj he says, "the BJP is a caravan and if a few carriages get left behind it makes no difference. The caravan moves on.'' In Uttar Pradesh Tandon expects the BJP's tally to increase by five seats, contrary to all predictions.

Vireshwar Dwivedi has been with Vajpayee for all his election campaigns since 1991. He is the campaign coordinator in Lucknow. He was the editor of the newspaper whose founder editor was Vajpayee. ''I became close to him when I was editor for 11 years,'' Dwivedi says. In Delhi he is part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's all India promotion committee.

On the eve of the election he is very satisfied with how things have been going. ''Everything has gone according to plan. The Lalji Tandon-Kalyan Singh issue is a media creation. The BJP works as a team always,'' Dwivedi says.

He says, "we have made arrangements to bring all voters to the booths; there will be no drop in voting figures." About Mahona he quips, ''the media blew it out of proportion. I went there yesterday, the people there will vote; these four people who just came in are all from Mahona.''

''We did not ask for other leaders to come here but they come out of gratitude and love for Atalji. They have done a good job but Atalji will win the election not only because of their thorough and relentless work but because he is Atal Bihari Vajpayee,'' Dwivedi concludes.

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