The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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If 11 can, there’s nothing India can’t: Atal

New Delhi, March 24: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee may not be as passionate about cricket as he is about peace with Pakistan. But if it helps win hearts across the border, nothing like it.

Even better if it adds to the shine his government has been holding up through relentless media campaigns.

Congratulating Sourav Ganguly and his boys soon after India’s first win in a series in Pakistan, Vajpayee packed in a political message. “If 11 players working together as a team can win matches and hearts, there is no reason why 100 crore people, when they move together, can’t achieve anything they want,” he said.

The Prime Minister, who followed today’s match closely and watched the last few hours with his foster family at his official residence, showed keen interest throughout the one-day series. He even took time off between his hectic schedule to catch the action live.

So engrossed was he in the Karachi one-dayer, which India won by five runs, that he asked his aides to keep a meeting on hold so that he could watch the last overs.

The Prime Minister’s residence erupted with cries of joy the moment the last Pakistani wicket fell. His foster granddaughter Neha walked up to the television screen to “touch” Irfan Pathan, who rocked Pakistan with three early wickets. Asked if the win had added to the BJP’s “feel-good” campaign, Vajpayee laughed. “This question,” he said, “gives me a feel-good feeling.”

When the Indian team had dropped in for a courtesy call on the Prime Minister on their way to Lahore, Vajpayee had told Ganguly and his teammates not just to win the matches, but to win the hearts of Pakistanis.

That he sent his closest aide, national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, together with his adopted son-in-law to Lahore for Sunday’s one-dayer shows how much time and effort Vajpayee has invested in peace with Pakistan.

It was because of Vajpayee that the friendship series took off. Left to the bureaucrats in North Block, who were worried about the security of the players and ready to scuttle the tour, television viewers in India would not have seen the amazing sight of the Tricolour being waved side by side with the green and white crescent.

In going ahead with the tour, Vajpayee took a conscious risk. Any small incident, or an attempt on the team, could have brought the entire peace edifice crumbling down. His stature as a statesman and his position within the party would have been at risk in an election year.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani spoke to Ganguly over telephone. “I am elated that India has won the match in Lahore. I congratulate the whole Indian contingent on this win,” he said. He also asked about the injury the captain suffered while fielding and wished him speedy recovery, sources close to Advani said.

‘India’s pride’

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who was campaigning in Madhya Pradesh, hailed the victory. “You are India’s pride — Team India,” she said in a message.

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