Tuesday, February 25, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Campaign ends on aggressive note
Tribune News Service

Shimla, February 24
Marred by unprecedented mudslinging, rancour and hostility, the high-pitched and rather malicious campaign for the Assembly poll ended today on an aggressive note, with top leaders of major political parties addressing rallies across the state.

It was for the first time in the electoral history of the peaceful hill state that campaigning descended to such depths, with even senior leaders joining the slanging match and not hesitating to make personal allegations involving corruption and sleaze against their opponents. The smear campaign anguished Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who deplored the use of character assassination as a weapon in the electoral arena and urged all parties, including the BJP, to exercise restraint.

While Mr Vajpayee and Mr L.K. Advani spearheaded the BJP campaign, in which over 24 Central leaders participated, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, AICC President, led the Congress charge along with a team of 12 other leaders, including Chief Ministers of various Congress-ruled state. The CPM, contesting only four seats, also utilised the services of its national leaders like Mr Sita Ram Yechuri. Similarly, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, President of the Lok Janshakti Party, and Mr Raj Babbar of the Samajwadi Party, also addressed a few rallies to make the presence of their respective parties felt in the electoral arena.

Mr Venkaiah Naidu, President of the BJP, wound up the party’s campaign by addressing a rally at the Sabzi Mandi ground in the state capital. Other prominent party leaders who addressed meetings on the final day included Mr Narendra Modi (Banikhet, Kotkehloor), Mr Shatrughan Sinha (Chopal, Rampur, Nirmand), Ms Uma Bharati (Ghumarwin, Nadaunta), and Mr Sunil Shastri (Doon). Mr Dhumal and Mr Shanta Kumar, also addressed around 12 meetings each.

Prominent Congress leaders to address rallies included Ms Ambika Soni and Capt Amarinder Singh (Chamba, Solan), Mr Arjun Singh (Balh, Mandi), Mr Satyavrat Chaturvedi (Dharamsala) and Ms Sheila Dikshit (Shahpur). Ms Vidya Stokes, PCC chief, held the concluding rally at Sunni and Mr Virbhadra Singh at Bilaspur and Ghumarwin. Mr Sukh Ram of the Himachal Vikas Congress addressed rallies in support of his party candidates at Bilaspur and Kotkehloor.

SOLAN: Hectic political activity was witnessed in Solan district on Monday at the close of the campaign. While the two major parties the Congress and the BJP — organised two poll rallies in the town, the candidates standing as Independents and other parties were busy taking the lead in door-to-door canvassing.

Maximum activity was noticed on The Mall road which houses the party offices of all candidates. The concentration of party election offices close to one an other within a distance of 20 meters created an atmosphere where each party tried to woo the passersby with the help of loud-speakers. The virual war of campaigning made some cricket fans viewing World Cup matches irate as they were unable bear the noise.

The situation took an ugly turn when Mr Narendra Modi, Gujarat Chief Minister, was unable to concentrate on his speech due to loud cheering on a loudspeaker by a rival Independent candidate. Not only did he halt the speech for a few minutes but also urged the police to silence the disturbance creator. Some agitated party workers who got up to tackle the situation were asked to maintain their cool.

While AICC secretary Ambika Soni addressed a rally at Ganj bazar, Mr M.N. Sofat was concentrating on shop-to-shop campaigning with a sizeable number of followers.

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