SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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I N D I A     V O T E S

Naveen Patnaik keeps everybody guessing
Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is a man of few words. Visiting journalists remember their meetings with him, granted rarely, with bemusement. Patnaik would often allow the visiting journalists to speak, comment and ask questions while remaining completely silent. He would let his bureaucrats or ministers to reply to the questions while he himself would listen gravely, rarely betraying any emotion on his unflappable face.









When people go to vote this time they have to reflect whether they can risk the country at the hands of less experienced (people) that have let us down on earlier occasions. — Sandesh, Congress mouthpiece

Ennui in BJP camp
New Delhi, March 10
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate LK Advani had announced a couple of days back that he would not play Holi this time, ostensibly to mourn the lethal terror attack on Mumbai last year. Advani may not have anticipated then that their 11-year old BJD ally and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik would dump them so near to the general election and further dampen the party spirits.

CPM slashes women’s share
New Delhi, March 10
Women’s empowerment is a fine slogan, but it hardly ever moves beyond public posturing in India. When it comes to realpolitik, even the most “gender-equal” of parties prefer to put their trust in men. Women, they feel, are not as dependable when it comes to winning political battles.

Dharamsala to Jodhpur, Rajasthan royal hunts for safe seat
New Delhi, March 10
Once the trusted face of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, former MP and state Health Minister Chandresh Kumari is now looking towards her family constituency of Jodhpur for reelection.

Graphic: Punjab constituencies

 

 





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Naveen Patnaik keeps everybody guessing
Tribune News Service

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is a man of few words. Visiting journalists remember their meetings with him, granted rarely, with bemusement. Patnaik would often allow the visiting journalists to speak, comment and ask questions while remaining completely silent. He would let his bureaucrats or ministers to reply to the questions while he himself would listen gravely, rarely betraying any emotion on his unflappable face.

One can, therefore, only imagine the kind of meeting Dr Chandan Mitra , BJP’s emissary, actually had when Patnaik firmly told him that Bharatiya Janata Party could be given no more than five Lok Sabha and 31 Assembly constituencies to contest. A stung BJP reacted sharply and withdrew their support to the BJD-led government, hoping to bring down Patnaik to his knees.

But the move boomeranged. Patnaik calmly went about garnering support from the Left, the JMM and so on and agreed to test hs strength on the floor of the Assembly. The BJP, which had begun abusing the Orissa chief minister for betrayal, has now toned down its strident comments and is busy trying to build bridges with Patnaik, who was once described as BJP’s most dependable ally.

Naveen Patnaik has spent much of his life outside Orissa. Son of Orissa’s strongman, Biju Patnaik, he spent most of his life abroad and in Delhi before he became the chief minister. But after taking over as chief minister, he has rarely stepped out of the state. In an affectionate article, journalist, anchor and writer Vir Sanghvi mentioned how ‘Pappu’, the name by which Patnaik’s friends called him, had abandoned his ‘hip-hep’ and jet-setting friends.

His bachelor status, his inability to speak Oriya and his past lifestyle were political handicaps and the people of his state were openly skeptical of his chances. His silence and aloofness were mistaken for indifference; his refusal to meet people at home in the evening spawned lurid stories and he was treated as a one-election wonder.

But he has come a long way in the nine years that he has been chief minister. People appear to be convinced of his integrity and secular credentials, his commitment to the state and his growing administrative capability. He is also acknowledged to be a smarter politician today, a fact that is reflected in the stunning electoral victories notched up by the Biju Janata Dal in the recent months.

Most observers believe that the Sangh Parivar’s overt and covert attempts to polarize people on communal lines is what prompted Patnaik to part ways with the BJP. Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Praveen Togadia accused him of heading a government of eunuchs while VHP saints hurled even worse invectives after the killing of VHP’s Laxmanananda Saraswati. Christian tribals were targeted by VHP mobs and rioting spread across western Orissa, drawing international condemnation. VHP was convinced of the culpability of Christian missionaries although Maoists took the responsibility for the killing.

The chief minister’s even more celebrated sister, writer Geeta Mehta and her publisher husband based in New York, his businessman brother, Prem Patnaik, and his Christian wife also felt that the state government did not do enough to rein in the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. The last straw was BJP minister Sameer Dey’s allegation that the chief minister had used black money to sweep the Cuttack municipal polls. Naveen forced him out of the ministry.

BJP has no choice but to try and woo him back into its fold. But Patnaik is likely to keep people guessing about his next move. Will a man, who has given up a jet-setting lifestyle to serve the relatively impoverished state, agree to shift to Delhi after the election ? It appears unlikely after he has marginalized both BJP and Congress in Orissa. But who knows what is in his mind ?

The last two Assembly elections were won by the BJP and BJD alliance. This time, BJD appears to believe it can contest on its own although BJP leaders and commentators are equally certain that the Left and the JMM will not be able to compensate the loss caused by the rift .

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Ennui in BJP camp
Faraz Ahmad
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 10
BJP’s prime ministerial candidate LK Advani had announced a couple of days back that he would not play Holi this time, ostensibly to mourn the lethal terror attack on Mumbai last year. Advani may not have anticipated then that their 11-year old BJD ally and Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik would dump them so near to the general election and further dampen the party spirits.

On the Holi eve, the BJP organised a small tea party with snacks, tea and colours for the media here. Though it was billed as “No news just a small get-together,” the whole affair was dominated by BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad and newspaper man Chandan Mitra lamenting the treachery of the communists who “misguided” Patnaik into deserting the BJP.

Significantly, Holi’s characteristic red gulal was missing among all the colours being applied on newsmen’s forehead by BJP functionaries. There was yellow, there was green and even pink, but no gulal.

A sense of ennui appears to have overcome the BJP leaders and Naveen’s decision has further aggravated this. A senior BJP leader shrugged his shoulders and said “Aisa hi hai (Well that’s how it is) when pointed out about the lack of enthusiasm in the party as compared to 2004. He claimed however “Han thoda hai, par sab theek ho jayega.”

Another NDA leader confided, “They are all preparing for the next round of elections when their second rung leader and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi would be ready to take over and lead the party. If the BJP wins this election it would be a bonus.”

“The RSS/BJP are fully backing Advani. The typical BJP voter fully identifies with Advani. And yet there is something lacking this time,” conceded another occupant of 11, Ashoka Road. That is perhaps because of the style of functioning of their leader. He depends heavily on a set of English-speaking people with not much ground experience, said another party insider.

Sources say one important grouse Naveen Patnaik held against the BJP was that they sent a political non-entity like Chandan Mitra to negotiate with him. And Chandan implicitly admitted to this when he disclosed. “I had gone there as the emissary of Advani. I requested him not to make the announcement before Sunday morning by which time I would have talked to Advani. But he did not have the courtesy to speak to Advani or wait for his reaction.”

BJD is not the only party upset over ham-handed handling of the allies. AGP too had complained that Sudhanshu Mittal who was negotiating with the AGP leaders in Guwahati had no official status. It was only yesterday that the party formally appointed Mittal as the official negotiator of the BJP. However, when general secretary Arun Jaitley, who was in charge of the state, took exception to it, BJP chief Rajnath Singh’s confidants went around explaining that there were two prabharis (supervisors) for one state.

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CPM slashes women’s share
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 10
Women’s empowerment is a fine slogan, but it hardly ever moves beyond public posturing in India. When it comes to realpolitik, even the most “gender-equal” of parties prefer to put their trust in men. Women, they feel, are not as dependable when it comes to winning political battles.

The logic has just played out in West Bengal, with the CPM managing to field only two women candidates in a state that has 42 Lok Sabha seats. The largest constituent of the Left Front has tripped badly on the bastion of women’s reservation in politics, even when it has always emerged as the most vocal political force behind the ill-fated Women’s Reservation Bill in the parliament.

In the last elections, the CPM had done better by fielding five women candidates. The numbers this time have shrunk for simple reasons - the party does not want to take chances in West Bengal, where it feels the political challenge this time is more formidable than before. The CPM top brass may dismiss the challenge of a united opposition (TMC and Congress) in Bengal, but the party list bares all its jitters.

The only two women candidates fielded this time are the sitting MPs from Bishnupur reserve constituency and Krishnanagar seat. Among the three women that have been dropped, one lost her constituency after it was declared reserve post delimitation. The other two had lost previous elections and had no chance of being fielded this time.

Interestingly, the other constituents of the Left Front have not fielded any woman in the the state, if that’s any consolation for Big Brother CPM.

Admitting that political exigencies in Bengal cost women candidates their share of LS seats in Bengal this time, senior CPM leader Nilotpal Basu yesterday told The Tribune, “A major problem was that one of our former woman candidates lost her segment after it became reserved in delimitation. The constituency is Jalpauguri.”

When asked about the other two women candidates dropped by the party this time, Basu said, “None of these two won the last elections. Given the changed political situation in Bengal, we had to focus on winning candidates. We are facing a new challenge in the state and needed to choose our contestants cautiously. We have fielded the women who won the last elections.”

Basu’s assertions apart, the success of CPM’s women candidates in the panchayat elections in the state paint a different picture.

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Dharamsala to Jodhpur, Rajasthan royal hunts for safe seat
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 10
Once the trusted face of the Congress in Himachal Pradesh, former MP and state Health Minister Chandresh Kumari is now looking towards her family constituency of Jodhpur for reelection.

After facing defeat at the hands of four-time BJP MLA Krishna Kapoor from Dharamsala in the 2007 Assembly elections, the Rajasthan royal feels Jodhpur would be the safest bet. It is her family stronghold, with her brother Vijender Singh Rao already being a sitting Rajya Sabha MP from the state.

So far as the Congress goes, indications of her acceptance as the Lok Sabha candidate from Jodhpur are clear. Rajasthan Congress leaders feel Kumari would be able to muster both Rajput and other community votes, including votes of Jats in Jodhpur. Her royal lineage is being seen as her greatest strength in the region, earlier represented in the Parliament by her mother Krishna Kumari.

While winnability is one factor that goes in Kumari’s favour as the Congress’ choice from Jodhpur, the other is her long association with the party. She earlier served in the party with Indira Gandhi and was later deputy minister and also a minister of state when in 1984 she first got elected to the eight Lok Sabha from Himachal Pradesh.

Later, she remained a Rajya Sabha member from the state as a Congress nominee. In the last the Virbhadra Singh government, she was state Cabinet Minister for Health. Earlier, she was member of the Himachal Pradesh state Assembly and also president, All-India Mahila Congress.

Kumari’s smooth political ride was, however, impeded in December 2007 when she lost the Assembly election to BJP’s Krishan Kapoor. Ever since, she has been on the lookout for a safe haven.

Congress sources also say she is interested in Jodhpur to further consolidate the family hold in the area.

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Pollscape
PM of M’rashtra

Taking a dig at NCP president Sharad Pawar, the MNS leader Raj Thackeray has said the talk of the former’s prime ministerial prospects was confined to Maharashtra only.Nobody else in the country takes Pawar’s projected candidature for the top post seriously, said Thackeray said, while talking to mediapersons in Pune.

Wooing youngistaan

Come polls, and youths become the cynosure of every political party. And why not, afterall, it’s the young and the restless that rule the electorate. Understandably, the focus is on wooing the young brigade. The Nawanshahr district unit of the BJP seems to have taken the whole idea pretty seriously. The local party leaders are organising functions where the newly-registered voters are being felicitated.

Fly in the sky

Elections are a nightmare for air traffic controllers as well. During elections, air traffic goes up with an increasing number of politicians using choppers and small aircraft to fly around on their campaign trail. With most of these choppers and aircraft carrying VIPs, ensuring their safety is already causing sleepless nights to the ATCs. Traffic is especially heavy over Mumbai and New Delhi and each of the two domestic airports already records around 700 arrivals and departures every day. So ordinary plane passengers can expect delays and a longer waiting period in the security lounge.

Total recall

Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, Indian Church has asked voters to consider those candidates who empower the electorate with the right to recall their elected representatives on grounds of non-performance, corruption and lack of personal integrity. A resolution adopted by Catholic Bishops' Conference of India also said the voters should select and promote candidates without any criminal record or background and having genuine concern for youth, women and underprivileged.

Illustrations by Sandeep Joshi

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Voter’s Guide

Can a non-citizen of India become a voter?

A person who is not a citizen of India cannot be registered as a voter, says Article 326 of the Constitution.

Can one be enrolled at more than one place?

According to Section 17 and 18 of the RP Act, 1950, a person cannot be enrolled as a voter in more than one place.

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Pollspeak

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik-led BJD will regret the decision to part ways with the NDA after the elections

— Senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj

No secular government can be formed without Sonia Gandhi

— SP general secy Amar Singh

BJD will join Third Front. I’ve spoken to Naveen Patnaik and he has agreed to join us unconditionally

— JDS chief HD Deve Gowda in Bangalore

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