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Atal lands at home with safety net

Lucknow, Feb. 22: Flashbulbs popped all around Mulchand, throwing the 35-year-old railway porter in a daze as Atal Bihari Vajpayee handed him a packet of papers with a smile, kicking off in his constituency a social security scheme for unorganised workers, another instalment of his government’s pre-poll sweeteners.

The Samajik Suraksha Yojna, which will provide pension, credit and medical facilities to labourers in the unorganised sector, will be initially introduced in 50 select districts, including state capitals.

“For the first time after Independence, my government has chalked out a plan to insure lives of workers of the unorganised sector,” the Prime Minister said. “If it gets a good response, it will be implemented all over the country.”

After handing out one lolly, Vajpayee exhorted the people to renew their mandate to him if they wanted more.

“When I was talking to some railway vendors, among other things they asked for a job in the Class IV categories. But they admitted that if I have to do that, they have to make me Prime Minister for the second time. I asked them ‘why don’t you first vote me to power again'’” he said at City Montessori School on Kanpur Road after launching the scheme.

He had driven straight to the school from the airport this morning after arriving on a two-day visit. In a busy schedule today, Vajpayee launched the scheme, addressed party workers in the afternoon and had dinner at Kalyan Singh’s house.

On the dais, he was flanked by labour minister Sahib Singh Verma and Kalyan. Leader of opposition in the House Lalji Tandon and agriculture minister Rajnath Singh were also around.

But completely cut off — they were placed in a separate enclosure — were BJP state leaders Kalraj Mishra and Vinay Katiyar. In the half-an-hour programme, there was no mention of the two leaders.

Through the day, however, the Prime Minister tried to build a bridge between the Mishra and Kalyan camps to shore up the BJP’s poll prospects in the state.

Vajpayee apportioned more time to recharging party workers at the Saraswati Sishu Mandir at Nirala Nagar this afternoon. “We have done our work during the last five years. It is now your duty to familiarise the people with our achievements with a united face.”

“We have to win more seats than what we had bagged in the last poll,” he told more than 5,000 workers who had gathered at the ground teeming with saffron flags. Kalyan and Rajnath, the BJP’s aces for the backward classes and the Thakurs, respectively, sat by his side.

Vajpayee confirmed that he would contest from Lucknow for the fifth time in a row, saying: “I do not want to disappoint the people of Lucknow.”

While reeling off his long list of achievements, Vajpayee contradicted a perception that the “feel-good” factor was not visible among the farmers. “It is being campaigned for some time that my government failed to do much for the farmers. This is not true. The farmers are also feeling good. They are happy, that is why there has been no farmer’s stir…,” Vajpayee said.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was quoted last week as saying that the farming community is not declaring it is feeling good. But he clarified later that he didn’t mean that they are not feeling good.

A similar adverse campaign is being carried out about unemployment, complained Vajpayee, hinting perhaps at Congress chief Sonia Gandhi challenging the government’s feel-good claims during her tour of the state earlier.

“We have succeeded to a great extent in creating job opportunities. We have created over one crore jobs in a year. These are not old figures,” he claimed, exhorting the workers to “accept the challenge and translate our good works into votes”.

At 7 pm, Vajpayee reached Kalyan’s house on Mall Road — it was decorated with glittering lights — for dinner and stayed for an hour interacting with the leader with whom he had fallen out in 1999. The change didn’t go unnoticed. “Dinner politics used to be hosted earlier by Tandon. The party workers are curious to note the shift in focus now,” said a veteran RSS leader here.

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