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|September 9, 1999||
Dilip Kumar or Vishnu Bhagwat to take on Vajpayee
Early today, Karan Singh, whose name had just been cleared by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to contest the Lucknow parliamentary constituency, threw the leadership into a quandary by declining to jump into the fray against Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, highly placed party sources said.
They told rediff.com that Dr Singh, after contemplating the matter, told Gandhi that he was not inclined to contest the Lucknow seat.
Last year, Vajpayee had won the seat by a margin of 219,222 votes over his nearest rival, Muzaffar Ali, of the Samajwadi Party who was supported by the Congress.
According to the sources, Dr Singh was advised by well-wishers in the Uttar Pradesh unit of the party that his or any other party candidate's entry into the fray in Lucknow is futile because the prime minister will win by a handsome margin.
Earlier, Dr Singh had been upbeat that his chances against Vajpayee would be buttressed by the support of the Muslims who are siding with the Congress to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Dr Singh's disinclination to contest the Lucknow seat could not have come at a worse time for the Congress leadership which is cudgelling its brain to find, yet again, a candidate formidable enough to take on the prime minister.
The saffron party has been mocking the Congress for not yet having named its candidate in Lucknow.
The BJP's propaganda machinery in Lucknow is working overtime to spread the sentiment that since the Congress does not have a candidate strong enough to be pitted against Vajpayee, it might as well concede defeat even before the votes are cast.
Sources indicated that with Dr Singh virtually pulling out, Gandhi and other senior politicians have begun "actively considering" the names of thespian Dilip Kumar and sacked navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat.
Dilip Kumar's name has been proposed by some senior Congressmen who feel that he not only commands respect among all sections of the people, but has the "stature" to contest against any BJP leader.
The veteran actor has been campaigning for the Congress in various parts of the country.
According to the Congress leadership's perception, the large number of Dilip Kumar fans, including Muslim voters, were offended when Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray demanded that he return the Nishan-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award of Pakistan, during the Kargil crisis to prove his patriotism. Some Sena politicians also labelled him a "Pakistani agent", causing considerable consternation among his fans.
Aware that ex-admiral Bhagwat is one of Vajpayee's most trenchant critics for not preventing his dismissal by Defence Minister George Fernandes, the Congress leadership is understood to be also considering his candidature.
Bhagwat's supporters like Lt Gen (retd ) Pran Nath Hoon had filed a public-interest petition against his dismissal, but the court had turned it down. Another PIL by a retired air force officer was also rejected.
Thereafter, in interviews given to the media, Bhagwat had asserted that he would do everything within his resources to give a fitting reply to his detractors in the Vajpayee government.
He had said that all avenues are open to him to seek "justice" against his "illegal" dismissal.
With Bhagwat, who is itching to level scores with the BJP leadership, the Congress is alive to the immense propaganda mileage it will draw by pitting him against Vajpayee. The ex-admiral is also a competent speaker.
The sources also pointed out that a section of the Congress wanted a local personality to be the candidate and the name of a lady professor is being mentioned in this regard.
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