The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stampede snips Atal show frills

Lucknow, April 13: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will file his nomination on Thursday as scheduled but has directed his local campaign manager, Shiv Kumar, to keep it “subdued and low key” because it will be three days after the stampede deaths.

Accordingly, the Uttar Pradesh BJP has decided to perform a small havan in Vajpayee’s central election office, after which he will file his papers at the district collectorate. Only party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and Pramod Mahajan, the general secretary in charge of the state, will accompany him. BJP workers have been asked to keep away.

Lalji Tandon, Vajpayee’s constituency minder and the protagonist of yesterday’s tragedy, is expected to remain in the background, BJP sources said.

The original plan was to have a “grand” havan after which Vajpayee would have led a procession, with a band of drummers and shehnai and nagada players. Four floral arches were to be erected on the route and each time Vajpayee stopped, he was to be showered with flowers. He would have wound up the event by addressing a public meeting.

A day after Vajpayee’s visit, Tandon began a drive to contain the damage after he was reportedly told off by Mahajan. The BJP spin doctor, who dashed to Lucknow from Varanasi for a few hours today, asked Tandon why he thought it expedient to gift saris in the midst of electioneering, the sources said.

Shortly after Mahajan left, Tandon went into a huddle with Lucknow BJP leaders and representatives of the RSS to assess the fallout.

Later, he visited the families of some of the victims and marshalled the services of the BJP’s women’s wing to console the bereaved. A contingent led by Kusum Rai, Kalyan Singh’s confidante, was with them all night, said Sanjay Choudhury, Tandon’s public relations chief.

Apart from giving Rs 50,000 each to the victims’ families, the BJP also paid for the cremation of those who could not afford it.

Asked if the tragedy would hurt the BJP’s prospects in Lucknow, Choudhury said: “No, not at all. Those who came to the function were our committed supporters. Each year, Babuji (as he calls Tandon) distributes blankets in winter and saris in summer. The same recipients show up because they are brought by our workers.”

As a former urban development minister Tandon had worked for Lucknow’s slums, Choudhury claimed. “The people came from such slums and the good work Tandon did will outweigh the negative fallout of the tragedy.”

As for the buzz about organiser Brajendra Murari Yadav’s allegedly dubious antecedents, both Shiv Kumar and Choudhury sounded defensive. “I didn’t know him well enough,” pleaded Kumar. Choudhury added: “He was a friend of Tandon but not a BJP member.”

The sources conceded that Yadav was “useful” in galvanising votes. He was apparently “influential” in two Assembly segments: Lucknow (west), which is Tandon’s, and Mahona, a semi-rural constituency. Yadav is originally from Mahona but moved to a more upscale area after becoming prosperous.

The sources admitted they would have to work “overtime” in the two segments to keep their votes. Yadav, they claimed, has been avoiding Tandon since yesterday.

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