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Political colours of poll-time Holi Sonia plays but not with rivals

New Delhi, March 7: Holi donned political colours in the country’s power hub this morning.

With elections barely a couple of months away, the Prime Minister and his deputy could not resist smearing the festival with political overtones, much like the iftars that politicians try to pass off as “goodwill gatherings”.

“Elections provide an opportunity to people to express their feelings. People should put forth their views peacefully. If they want to bring in a change in the government, let them do so. But the change should be such as will fulfil the aspirations of the people,” Atal Bihari Vajpayee told cabinet ministers, BJP leaders and journalists gathered at his residence.

Lest his brief sermon be construed as a sign of diffidence, the Prime Minister was quick to add that for the last five years, his government has been trying to make people’s wishes come true and “in future, we hope that people’s mandate will be in our favour”.

His deputy L.K. Advani was more categorical, saying the NDA was all set to return to power. At a Holi do in his house, Advani declared that this was “not the last” celebration of the government as “I am confident that the NDA government will return to power”.

Advani and his family were the first to call on the Prime Minister. They had breakfast together. The Prime Minister went to Advani’s house on Prithviraj Road, a few minutes from his residence on 7 Race Course Road, at noon.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, too, played Holi with party leaders and workers at her residence. Sonia did not celebrate the festival last year because of the violence in Gujarat in 2002. However, Sonia, unlike Vajpayee and Advani, did not send any political message. Asked if she would play Holi with the two, she said: “Certainly not.”

Later, asked whether her greetings included Vajpayee and Advani, Sonia said: “I extend good wishes to all.”

At his home, the deputy Prime Minister said the NDA was seeking a renewed mandate based on its “performance” in the security and development sectors over the last six years and on the promise of making India a developed country by 2020.

Advani pointed out that India was unable to realise its potential because “swaraj” (self-governance) had not morphed into “suraj” (good governance). “Our PM has set an example of good governance. Except for some opponents, everyone feels the same,” he said. “India’s respect the world over has increased and confidence among people within the country has strengthened so much that today or tomorrow it will become a developed nation.”

The deputy Prime Minister reminded the guests that he had participated in all the 14 Lok Sabha polls and worked to win votes for the BJP. “This time, I will garner votes in the form of the Bharat Uday yatra.”

Vajpayee refrained from dragging the Opposition in his speech and tried to sound reflective rather than rhetorical. “There is a need that everyone should play Holi, forgetting differences and making a new beginning. Holi symbolises the victory of good over evil. The country is standing on a turn where the entire world is looking towards us with great hope. But we have to fulfil it. A new beginning should be made where there will be no discrimination. Peace should prevail in the country and there should be no unrest. Holi is played with colours and not with blood,” the Prime Minister said.

Advani, too, spoke of peace but with a note of caution. He referred to the improvement in Indo-Pak ties and hoped that “animosity becomes a thing of the past”. But he also warned of the continuing violence in Jammu and Kashmir as was evident in the recent attack on chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam spent time with physically challenged children. “Whenever children smile, the country smiles,” he said.

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