The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Haze over Atal campaign dates

New Delhi, Nov. 29: Conflicting reports emanating from the BJP and the Prime Minister’s Office about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s campaign dates in Gujarat have fuelled speculation that he might ultimately cancel his trip to the state.

While PMO officials had said on Wednesday that Vajpayee will campaign on December 9 and 10, BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi today said the Prime Minister would hit the turf on December 5 and 7. Later in the evening, Vijay Goel, minister of state in the PMO, said Vajpayee “is likely to campaign on December 9 and 10”.

The confusion over the dates has set tongues wagging that chief minister Narendra Modi and other hardliners in the party are not enthusiastic about Vajpayee campaigning for the party. And that, if at all he wants to, he should not be winding it up as December 10 is the last day of campaigning. The state goes to polls two days later.

Sources said Modi and his supporters are wary of what the Prime Minister might say during electioneering. Vajpayee had called the riots “a national shame” and had backed chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh when Modi and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders cast aspersions on him. He had also issued an appeal that the Godhra train carnage should not be made an election issue.

The sources said Modi wants deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to grab the headlines on the last two days before the polls. Advani will kick off the party’s high-voltage campaign tomorrow.

The dates suggested by the party for the Prime Minister is unlikely to suit him because of the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will reach Delhi on Tuesday. On December 8, the Prime Minister may host a Id-Milan as he had cancelled the iftar. The question is whether his health will permit Vajpayee to rush through the two dates sandwiched between these programmes.

Advani and other BJP leaders will address a series of election meetings across the state tomorrow, Naqvi told reporters.

Advani will address meetings in Rajkot and Bhuj, human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi in Ankleshwar, Surat and Bharuch, and party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu in Vadodara and Anand.

Among the other leaders to address elections meetings will be parliamentary affairs minister Pramod Mahajan (in Dhoraji, Dwarka and Jamnagar), I&B minister Sushma Swaraj (Patan and Ahmedabad), spokesman Arun Jaitley (Himat Nagar), and coal minister Uma Bharti (Jetpur, Dhoraji and Junagarh).

Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi, former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh and film stars Hema Malini and Vijaya Shanti will also campaign, Naqvi said.

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