The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Foe turns friend for Emergency veterans

Ahmedabad, Dec. 8: They haven’t mended fences with the Congress; they have just got on the other side of the fence — that is the Congress side.

They had fought the Congress when its regime clamped Emergency on the country. Nearly three decades later, they are fighting for it against the BJP.

As campaigning for the December 12 Gujarat polls peaks, many political and social workers from that era have descended on the state to mobilise support for the Congress. Their campaign, peppered with street plays, roadside exhibitions and circulation of pamphlets, recall “the dark days”.

Frontline leaders of the Emergency opposition, such as Laloo Prasad Yadav, Gandhian Narayan Desai, Mohan Prakash, Ramji Singh and Kumar Prashant, are all there.

Jai Prakash Narayan’s blue-eyed boy, Laloo Prasad, is of course the biggest crowd-puller. He tells people just what they want to hear — that caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi is the reincarnation of Kans, Lord Krishna’s uncle, who will be arrested under Pota if the Congress wins.

Kumar Prashant, another leading light of the JP movement, is quietly reaching out to villagers and distributing pamphlets against the BJP.

The message is defeat the multi-faced BJP, says Prashant, also convener of the Rashtriya Sangathan. He has come from Mumbai with 200 youths to campaign in 60 constituencies that the Congress had narrowly lost in the last polls.

Prashant feels a little embarrassed being on the other side of the fence. But “there is no choice”, he said.

The Congress could not be happier. Kishor Upadhaya, a minister and Congress leader from Uttaranchal, said non-Congress forces had aligned with the RSS during the Emergency.

The Sangh had fed on that support to gain in strength, said Upadhaya, who has been camping in Bhavnagar district for about a week. “Today, after realising their mistake, they are fighting the BJP and supporting the Congress,” he said.

Gujarat Congress vice-president Hasmukh Patel is more generous. If the Congress wins, it will be a collective victory for all those non-BJP parties, social organisations and individuals who are working for it, he said.

He even pays a backhanded compliment to caretaker chief minister Narendra Modi. “We are grateful to Modi, who has galvanised a large number of people against the BJP,” he said.

For Prashant, Gujarat today is much worse off than India was during Emergency. “It was easy to fight Emergency because the enemy was identified. But the enemy today has many faces, they speak in multiple voices.”

But Prashant is hopeful. “I am an optimist as I have seen a perceptible change in people’s mood. The Congress has covered a lot of lost ground. I can feel a clear shift in the Congress’ favour.”

The poster exhibitions and street plays now being put up in the riot-hit localities remind Prashant of the creativity during Emergency.

He sees the same spirit in the youth who have joined him from 20 states. Apart from students and professionals, his team has a territorial army personnel.

From Bihar’s Champaran has come 100 youth, who are appealing to Modi’s constituency, Maninagar, to vote against communal forces.

They have brought with them Mahatma Gandhi’s message. The Mahatma had started from Champaran his satyagraha movement to free oppressed farmers.

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