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|September 29, 1999||
The other Atal
With his oratory, Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been the greatest crowd-puller for the Bharatiya Janata Party. But Suneet Agarwal is not too far behind.
Well, he is the 17-year-old who never lets the crowd feel the prime minister's absence in the thick of election campaign. Son of a Bareilly-based garment merchant, he appears, acts and talks like Vajpayee -- a trait that has earned him the sobriquet 'Mini Atal.'
He arrived in Amethi on Tuesday, with father Inder Kumar Agarwal, to do his magic. He started off with Bellary in Karnataka where Congress president Sonia Gandhi finds herself pitted against senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj. After delivering his Vajpayee-like speech alongside Swaraj in Bellary, Suneet had shared the stage with L K Advani in Calcutta. Since then, he has covered almost every state.
Suneet was with Murli Manohar Joshi in Madhya Pradesh, with Shatrughan Sinha in Hubli (Karnataka) and Govindacharya in Delhi. He attended over 35 meetings with Swaraj in Bellary.
"I have been out of home for one-and-a-half months touring various parts of the country," he said.
A student of 11th standard in Mission Inter-College, Ranikhet, he has taken special leave from studies for the campaign. As soon as Suneet, dressed in well-creased pyjama-kurta, takes the microphone, the audience are mesmerised with his style, an amazing approximation of Vajpayee's. But he vehemently denies imitating the prime minister.
''It will mean disrespect to Vajpayeeji... I don't imitate him, but I have somehow got some of his mannerisms,'' he says.
Inder Agarwal recalls his son picking up the 'style' when he was barely seven years. ''Suneet first saw Mr Vajpayee two years after that,'' he says.
It all started when he visited Ayodhya to participate in the kar seva in 1989 at age seven. ''I requested a senior sant there to allow me to speak to the crowd which had gathered, it was only after I refused to budge from the podium that the organisers allowed me to speak,'' he recalls. ''Later, people told me that my gestures and delivery resembled that of Mr Vajpayee.''
Suneet used his unique skill in the 1991, 1996 and 1998 parliamentary polls. It was Madan Lal Khurana who coined the sobriquet 'Mini Atal' when he saw Suneet in Moradabad during the 1991 poll. Today it is routine for him to be invited to BJP public rallies.
''I have shared the stage with Mr Vajpayee over 20 times in the past 10 years,'' he says with pride.
Suneet's ambition can be correctly guessed from his proclivity. He wants to take to politics but only after acquiring a law degree. For the moment, elections are nothing but a training ground for him.
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