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Virendra Kapoor | April 19, 2004

Uttaranchal Chief Minister Narain Dutt Tiwari no longer appears to be able to cope with the rigours of the job.

There are tales galore in government circles about how the septuagenarian finds it hard to keep awake during official meetings, and how his attention span has shrunk so much that he forgets the names of his aides, a la former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Ram Prakash Gupta.

Some time ago senior central government officers attending a meeting presided over by Tiwari were aghast to find the CM dozing off in mid-sentence.

Somehow the meeting was brought to a formal close once Tiwari awoke. But it was clear that age has taken its toll on the vintage Uttar Pradesh politician who was once famously nicknamed New Delhi Tiwari for his ability to curry favour with the late Indira Gandhi and her son, the late Sanjay Gandhi.

A parallel from distant Peru

By all accounts, the BJP is sitting pretty in this general election. But the party seems to be in real danger of forfeiting some goodwill by harping on Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin.

Gandhi's foreign birth may well be an issue with most Indians, but hammering the point home at every conceivable opportunity to the exclusion of more pressing issues of economic development may only annoy the voters.

BJP-friendly psephologists and other experts advised senior party politicians to seek votes on the performance of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. "Her foreignness oozes out of her very person, as does her inexperience," a veteran poll watcher reasoned. "But when you make her the issue to the exclusion of everything else you also cause some sympathy to be generated in her favour."

The advice fell on deaf ears. Instead, Pramod Mahajan and Company have come up with another smart-alecky parallel to the Congress party boss in former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori.

Fujimori, born of Japanese parents, ruled Peru with an iron hand between 1990 and 2000 till he fled one fine morning, leaving behind a trail of corruption, state-sponsored crimes, and other violations of human rights.

The country of his origin, Japan, was quick to grant him political asylum and has since stonewalled all attempts by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations as also the successor Peruvian government to get him extradited to face trial on various counts.

BJP politicians are using this example to weave a scary tapestry around Sonia Gandhi in which, quite naturally, the Bofors accused, Ottavio Quattrochhi, serves as a credible prop.

How far this campaign will click with voters, many of whom have probably never heard of Peru or Fujimori, is anyone's guess.

Spotlight on a murky past

Want to exhume a past that someone would much rather keep buried? Simple; just make him contest an election.

In recent days opponents have recycled the Bofors charges against Sonia Gandhi, raked up the story about a teenaged Atal Bihari Vajpayee having been a British informer, and dug out old records about a Congress candidate the moment he filed his nomination.

In the last case, the Congressman's BJP rival lost no time in making public what was quite well known in circles close to the Congress candidate and his professional colleagues.

Apparently, some years ago this worthy was keen to divorce his estranged first wife so that he could marry a professional colleague. But the former lady was not co-operating.

So the wise guy coolly produced another woman in court as his first wife and secured the divorce!

When the real first wife got to know of the fraudulent manner in which her husband had obtained the divorce, she initiated court proceedings against him. She also wrote to the Bar Council seeking action against him for fraud and unethical conduct.

How the Congress leader got around those questions is yet another scandalous tale, which is bound to unfold as the campaign progresses. At least that is what his BJP opponent has promised.

Wanted: the real BJP

With more than half the electorate below the age of 35, it is only proper that party managers should be conversant with modern campaign tools.

But it seems the BJP is not paying sufficient attention to its projection on the Internet. Otherwise you wouldn't get some innocuous research and review organisation based in Brighton, England, when you punch on your keyboard.

If you do so, the image of a young girl confronts you followed by a blurb welcoming you to the 'Brighton Journal of Philosophy.'

The web site claims 'the BJP aims to publish cutting edge research, news bulletins, and authoritative review articles commissioned from scholars working in analytical tradition.'

It is another matter that apart from Balbir Punj, who heads the party's 'intellectual cell', one can hardly think of anyone else in the saffron tribe who can contribute to the BJP -- the Brighton Journal of Philosophy, that is -- especially when Minister for Divestment Arun Shourie still exercises proprietorial control over the columns of his old paper.

But really, shouldn't someone in Mahajan's computer-savvy gang mend the situation so that the search engine does not take you automatically to the wrong BJP?

Illustrations: Uttam Ghosh

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