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PM kicks off poll drive
Seeks 5 more years for unfinished work
Our Correspondent

Faizabad, February 7
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee kicked off election campaign from here today. He asked people to vote for the BJP so that he could complete “unfinished work” and change the face of the country.

“We need another five years to complete the unfinished work and start new development projects so that the country could become a developed nation by 2020,” Vajpayee said while addressing a rally here.

He said he had worked with honesty and sincerity for the past five years and now it was the turn of the people to evaluate that work. “Evaluate my government’s work and give me another five years to serve you better,” he said.

“We have done a lot. The foodgrain crisis has been resolved. The poverty has come down from 34 per cent to 26 per cent. The export of foodgrains has gone up. Far-flung places are now connected with roads and rail lines, “but much is still to be done,” Vajpayee said in his inimitable style.

“More roads have to be constructed, more rail lines are to be laid so that our connectivity with all parts of the country can increase. Good connectivity will boost our economy and we will march on the path of progress,” he said.

Though kicking off his election campaign from Faizabad, the place which has seen passion going up in the name of Ram Temple, harped on development.

“We have initiated a dream project to connect Kanyakumari with Kashmir and connect all important rivers so that we can fight drought and flood,” he said. “We need support from you to give us a mandate of another five years so that we can change the face of the country,” he said.

Taking a dig at Congress President Sonia Gandhi, he said she had once said that my government’s projects were like ‘Mungeri lal ke sapney’. “We have dreams and we know how to fulfil them,” he said.

He also took a resolve to better ties with Pakistan. “Our relations with Pakistan have improved. “If Pakistan is ready for friendship, we will reciprocate the same way,” Vajpayee said.

“The two countries have already fought three wars in which Pakistan bore the major brunt. Instead of fighting with each other, we will have to fight poverty and unemployment in our countries,” he said.

This is Vajpayee’s first major public engagement after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha to make way for fresh Parliamentary poll.

Union Railway Minister Nitish Kumar, Union Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh, senior BJP leader Kalyan Singh and in charge of UP affairs Kalraj Mishra also spoke on the occasion.


Media relishes Sonia’s kebabs, juicy quotes
Anita Katyal
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 7
It was easily the most sought after invitation in town. As soon as word got around that Congress President Sonia Gandhi, in her new proactive avtaar, had decided to call presspersons to her residence for lunch today, there was a mad scramble for an invite.

The rush was understandable. It was the first time the Press had been invited to Ms Gandhi’s fortified residence for a meal. It was also the first real opportunity for reporters to interact informally and at length with the Congress President, who has for long been perceived as aloof and reserved.

As it happened, the guests did not go back disappointed. In addition to sumptuous kebabs and Goan fish curry, information-hungry reporters also got their fair share of juicy quotes and sound bytes.

Ms Gandhi confessed to problems in Uttar Pradesh where the Congress efforts to tie-up with the BSP have run into trouble. “Some people are applying great pressure on parties not to align with us,” she remarked, stating there are reports that there is pressure on the parties which speak to the Congress.

Though she did not name the BJP or the BSP, the reference to these parties was clear. Despite these setbacks, the Congress President appeared hopeful and optimistic, indicating that their hunt for allies in UP was continuing as they are also talking to “some other parties.”

Playing the perfect hostess, under the eagle eye of her party colleagues, Ms Gandhi moved from one elegantly laid-out table to another, answering queries on everything from the Bofors case to the PM’s remarks on dynastic rule.

“We are trying to emerge as the largest party and alliance,” she said in response to questions on whether they will be willing to support a non-NDA government after the elections. “In any case, this is a hypothetical question ...we have first to fight and win the elections...only then can we decide,” she added.

Ms Gandhi virtually bristled when asked about the PM’s statement on the Congress promoting dynastic politics. “This is a big joke....the BJP is in partnership with parties which are no different in terms of dynasties,” she responded sharply as she listed out NDA’s present and former allies like Chandrababu Naidu, Om Prakash Chautala and Omar Abdullah, who, she said, all belong to political dynasties.

She was also quick to dismiss the BJP’s claims on a prevailing “feel good” factor, stating that it is only confined to the urban areas while the situation in the countryside was very different.

Ms Gandhi was relatively more circumspect when it was pointed out that several political leaders who raised the Bofors issue are now the Congress party’s allies. “I don’t believe in looking into the past...we need to look to the future,” she said but remained non-committal about whether the Congress will make it a poll issue. She was, however, not surprised that the BJP remained unrepentant on Bofors despite Rajiv Gandhi’s exoneration, stating, “They have not given up the issue for 17 years.”

As is always the case, no conversation with the Congress President, however brief, is complete without a question about her children’s plans to join politics. And each time, the answer is the same, “It is their choice.I took my own decisions all my life,so did my husband. And we brought up our children to take their own decisions.”

The otherwise cordial interaction was not without its share of drama. The questions to Ms Gandhi varied from table to table, depending on the regional interests of the journalists seated there. If the Kerala contingent was more interested in Karunakaran, then the reporters from Tamil Nadu wanted information on the problems with the DMK on the Pondicherry seat and the Andhra Pradesh lot wanted to know about the talks with the Telengana Rashtriya Samiti. So much so that the journalists virtually came to blows at one point as UP and Tamil Nadu jostled for attention even as a bemused Congress president looked on.


Mufti meets Sonia on J&K seats
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 7
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed today met Congress President Sonia Gandhi to discuss seat-sharing arrangements for the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Mr Sayeed, who returned to the Capital yesterday after leading an Indian Haj goodwill delegation, met Ms Gandhi for about 30 minutes.

Poll Quotes

Give us one more tenure to resolve these issues forever

— Atal Bihari Vajpayee

We must expose the Prime Minister for his constantly shifting stance on national issues

— Sonia Gandhi

Atalji ka naam, Atalji ka kaam aur sab ke upar Ram

— Kalyan Singh

Feel good is Farce good factor

— Sheila Dikshit


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