The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A ‘nobody’ everybody wants out

Ahmedabad, April 11: Grief has steeled his resolve, but Vitthalbhai Pandya has no illusions.

The 76-year-old father of slain BJP leader Haren Pandya knows he is no match for L.K. Advani in the battlefield of Gandhinagar. But then, as he says, winning was never his priority. He wants to embarrass the deputy Prime Minister and the man he blames for his son’s “political murder” — Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Pandya, who launched his election campaign from the very spot at Law Garden where his son — a former home minister — was gunned down last year on March 26, has already won a moral victory. Despite the BJP’s best efforts, he could not be persuaded not to file his nomination as an Independent.

Pandya reveals he has confirmed information that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee pulled up state leaders for failing to “convince” him not to contest the election.

“I’m not going to spare Modi and Advani,” the old man had said earlier, angry and hurt at the way the chief minister treated his son — denying him a renomination from Ellisbridge, a seat he had won thrice, in the last Assembly elections — as the top leadership looked on.

Officially, BJP leaders dismiss Pandya as a “nobody”. They describe him as a minor “irritant” and an “irrelevant” force. But in private, they concede that his decision to take on Advani has created an awkward situation. The only saving grace is that the slain leader’s widow has refused to campaign for her father-in-law.

The party used every possible tactic to ensure that Pandya withdraws his nomination. But he put his foot down, saying that by contesting, he would be paying a “tribute to my son”. “You can ask for my head, but please do not tell me to change my decision. It’s final. I’m going ahead come what may,” he told the BJP’s emissaries.

Pandya recalls how the party tried to make him change his mind. “They chose some people — who were close to my son — to convey that what I was doing was wrong. They pretended to be sympathetic, but left after issuing veiled threats.” The BJP, he says, has managed to “win over my daughter-in-law, Jagruti”, but that does not matter as politics is all about manoeuvrability.

If his daughter-in-law has deserted him, all those party workers who were usually seen with his son have disappeared. Pandya has been left with a few close relatives and family members who form his core team. But he is undeterred.

Some youths, admirers of his son, did join him recently at Law Garden. They formed a small motorcade that comprised a couple of cars and a dozen two-wheelers and took a round of Ellisbridge areas.

The pomp and show normally seen in election campaigns was missing, but the response he got made Pandya emotional. He handed out four-page pamphlets with pictures from happier times — with his son. “Haren used to tell me that he used to come across people who had studied under me. Now I come across people who say they were very close to Haren.”

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