The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal blank cheque to Gujarat

Ahmedabad, Dec. 9: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s campaign for Narendra Modi in Gujarat wound up late tonight with a speech that could be interpreted either way.

Not once during his address at the Kankaria Football Ground did Vajpayee either endorse the use of the Hindutva card or categorically ask for votes on religious issues.

The bulk of his speech was on the elections in Kashmir and the need for a government that “will work with all”.

“You have to decide,” he told the crowd, “what kind of Gujarat you want. We have entered the 21st century. Science and technology is changing the world. We have to get ahead. Internal security has to be strengthened and it is important that we are united and we can work together.”

The Prime Minister was sharing the dais with Mayavati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party is the only other parliamentary outfit that has joined the BJP campaign. But even she was limited in her appeal for votes and her appeal was directed at Dalit voters.

Mayavati was critical of Ram Vilas Paswan, her rival Dalit leader, who has been campaigning against the BJP. She said the BSP has put up candidates in 31 constituencies and sought the support of Dalit voters for the BJP in constituencies where the BSP is not a contestant.

The Prime Minister’s speech was in sharp contrast to Modi’s. Speaking after the Gujarat chief minister, Vajpayee said: “People used to say that elections cannot be held in Jammu and Kashmir and they were also sceptical of elections in Gujarat. But the people of Jammu and Kashmir have decided with the ballot, not the bullet. Under the Constitution, everyone is equal. Whatever their religion or region, all voters are the same as long as they are 18 years old and above.”

But Vajpayee reserved some criticism for Sonia Gandhi. “I saw and heard on television that somebody was saying khabardar, hoshiyar. It turns out to be Srimati Sonia Gandhi. I did not expect it from her. She is a daughter-in-law and daughters-in-law also become mothers-in-law. When Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister, I was in the Opposition…. For 40 years, we have been in the Opposition.… The Congress out of power is like a fish out of water. They have to learn to be restrained.”

Earlier, referring to the Congress’ high-profile campaign, Modi, loudly cheered by the crowd, said: “They have deployed 14 chief ministers to get rid of one (meaning himself). When the riots broke out, I had asked all these chief ministers for additional police forces but they never spared any.”

Modi did talk of development issues but emphasised that development was dependent on social security. “It is fine to talk of progress and development, but I urge you to spare a thought as you go to vote. You might have everything but what if your son cannot return home safe in the evening' Till there is security, there can be no development,” he said.

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