Friday, February 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Respect for PM, but gratitude for Sukh Ram
S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

Mandi, February 20
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today tried to touch a right cord with the Himachal Pradesh electorate by asking for a positive vote on development and taking a dig at political opponents and rebel candidates in his inimitable style.

However, whether his charisma would swing the votes in favour of the BJP in Mandi district, bastion of former Union Minister Sukh Ram, was difficult to say as some of them would be voters who came to hear him at the Paddal grounds. They said their favourite in Mandi area could be Mr Sukh Ram, who they said had given them development.

They expressed their love and admiration for the Prime Minister, but minced no words in showing their nearness to Mr Sukh Ram, who they believed was single-handedly responsible for the development of the district when he was the Union Communications Minister. To them, allegations of corruption did not seem to matter.

“We have great respect and love for Mr Vajpayee, but we have not lost love for Mr Sukh Ram”, a second-year college student told The Tribune immediately after attending the Prime Minister’s rally, which was considered good by even critics.

“A person who cannot belong to his party, can he ever belong to the nation”, Mr Vajpayee asked during his half-an-hour long election address at the Paddal grounds here, triggering peels of laughter. He admonished the rebels and asked them to vote for party candidates for development.

He appeared to have struck an emotional cord with the women voters by talking of an end to foeticide, focusing on girl education and giving them equal rights everywhere. He referred to Kalpana Chawla and the heights to which Indian women were capable of reaching.

An old woman was agitated that a ‘brahmachari’ Vajpayee could be accused by the Opposition of eating beef. “Nobody here eats beef and we cannot believe such allegations. That too when it comes against a brahmachari”, said an old woman, Ms Tara Vaidya. In this hill state, a ‘brahmachari’ is considered pious and ascetic.

“I liked Mr Vajpayee’s statement that had he been power hungry, he could have joined the Congress, when Jawaharlal Nehru was the Prime Minister”, Mr Vijay Kumar Thakur, a local businessman, said, hoping that his fellow electorate would vote on the basis of development and not get carried away by allegations and counter-allegations.

Mr Vajpayee said had he been power hungry, he would have joined the Cabinet of the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and that if not a ‘big’ minister, he would at least become a ‘small’ minister.

Earlier, there was loud cheer and sloganeering as Mr Vajpayee arrived at the meeting venue in an IAF helicopter. The audience greeted and cheered the Prime Minister, shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Mangal bhavan amangal hari desh ko chahiye Atal Behari as if this was a vote for Lok Sabha elections. People clapped when he began his speech, saying Himachal Pradesh was his second home.


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