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Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal woos minorities, Modi follows

New Delhi, April 29: The BJP has pressed Narendra Modi into campaigning in Uttar Pradesh as the elections reach make-or-break stage, a move that is unlikely to make Atal Bihari Vajpayee happy.

Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a general secretary of the party, announced today that the Gujarat chief minister would be going on the stump in the decisive state as it heads into its second and third phase of polling on May 5 and 10.

Naqvi said Modi would be one of the star campaigners — some central leaders like Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley are already there. Vajpayee is also campaigning in Uttar Pradesh now.

It is not as if Modi is not going to other states. He did campaign in the earlier phases in Karnataka and Maharashtra, and he is hitting the trail in Rajasthan tomorrow and will tour Madhya Pradesh.

But Uttar Pradesh is Vajpayee country and the Prime Minister said at a public meeting only the other day that “we would not allow another Gujarat to happen” as he and other BJP leaders launched a sustained effort to persuade the minorities to shed their distrust of the party. A procession of minority leaders has made their way to the party’s Delhi headquarters to inspire confidence in the community.

“It is a foolish move,” said a BJP leader close to the Prime Minister about Modi’s campaigning.

“However, it’s a no-holds-barred fight to the finish, and Modi will probably be asked to campaign in constituencies where there are fewer Muslims.”

The BJP leader also believed that the party need not panic because internal surveys have shown the BJP would clearly be the single largest party and be able to form a coalition government with Vajpayee at the head.

Party sources could not confirm if Vajpayee had been consulted before the decision to send Modi, but since the Gujarat chief minister has been campaigning, it may not be necessary that poll managers will seek the Prime Minister’s blessings at every step.

Those who know Vajpayee’s style of functioning say he will not make an issue out of it at this critical point in the party’s election campaign when some exit polls are predicting a hung Parliament and when the BJP is not expected to do particularly well in Uttar Pradesh.

Modi’s entry into the state may also be interpreted as a failure of the strategy the party has adopted for this election — Ram having been replaced by roads. Development and good governance were the centrepiece of the strategy.

While he campaigns in Uttar Pradesh, Modi is unlikely to strike a strident Hindutva line, but his presence will be enough to send across that message loud and clear — the Gujarat riots having eclipsed the Ayodhya demolition in the minority psyche.

Vajpayee’s perturbation, though likely to stay unstated in public, is easier to fathom than .K. Advani’s as Modi has often been referred to as being close to the deputy Prime Minister. It is not known, however, as to how Advani will view the fact that the BJP has to use the services of Modi after he himself has undertaken an arduous Bharat Uday Yatra that so symbolically touched Ayodhya.

What is known is that Modi did not have very much need for Vajpayee or Advani in his Gujarat campaign.

The Gujarat chief minister and other leaders will focus on 30-35 marginal constituencies which the BJP believes will come to its kitty if enough work is done there. Many in the BJP believe the party has made the right move.

“Considering that the minorities will not vote for us, what is wrong in consolidating our position among the Hindus by getting Modi to campaign'” asked a BJP leader.

He explained that, despite the Prime Minister’s appeals, the party was not depending on minority votes. What it was hoping to achieve was to ensure that the minorities do not close ranks and make a determined bid to defeat BJP candidates.

In Aligarh today, Vajpayee persisted in his efforts to position the BJP as a centrist party. “There should not be any doubt in the hearts of Muslims about us and we cannot in any way be dubbed anti-Muslim.”

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