BJP does a Pepsi to Cong?s Coke
Dara link to burn death
Ram exile till next poll
Polls bring reform guru back to basics
Dynasty deserter versus retainer
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Aug. 26 
Rankled by the Election Commission?s bar on all advertising in the electronic media, political parties are taking their pre-poll war to the print media with a vengeance. The BJP stunned the Congress yesterday by placing a counter-ad in a national daily that rebutted issues raised by the party in an ad in the same edition of the newspaper.

The Congress had released an ad in the newspaper challenging the Atal Behari Vajpayee government?s Kargil campaign with a bold-point poser: ?If Pokhran was a deterrent, why was there a Kargil war?? Little did the Congress? media managers know that the BJP was already privy to the ad and had managed to sneak in its reply in the same edition.

Lok Abhiyan, a BJP-backed outfit, responded with a similar-looking ad, a few pages on in the newspaper, stating: ?A reply to a reckless opposition: A responsible opposition does not play political games while the nation is at war.?

The Lok Abhiyan ad left nobody in doubt, least of all aghast Congress leaders, that the BJP had done a smart and quick double-take on its attack on the Kargil issue. The shape, size and looks of the Lok Abhiyan ad were identical to the Congress one. Only, the words were different.

The instant rebuttal by the BJP sent jitters down the publicity cell of the Congress which is now trying to identify the source of the leak and work on new strategy.

Senior party leaders, who alleged that the BJP was ?using the government?s authority? to ?provoke leaks?, went into a huddle late this evening to decide a counter-strategy. ?We shall hit back,? a senior Congress leader said.

He alleged that the Congress ad had been leaked to the ruling party by ?vested interests? and described the whole affair as ?politically and morally unethical?. The leader, who would not go on record, alleged that minister for information and broadcasting Pramod Mahajan was ?using unfair means? to plant moles in the media and get information in advance.

Advertising industry sources confirmed that the Lok Abhiyan ad could only have been the result of a leak at some stage and said this was the first time that a poli-tical party has been able to counter an advertising campaign instantly.

?Counter-advertising is used extensively by companies to score a point over its rival. But usually a rebuttal appears the next day, not on the same day,? said an ad industry insider. He, however, added: ?The effect can be achieved only when the rival company acts swiftly, the BJP has wasted no time in responding.?

Another ad executive said: ?That there has been a leak is very obvious and it seems to have been made well in advance because the two ads even have a similar layout and design.?

The Congress is working with a whole stable of agencies like Live Wire, Concept, Sony and Madison for its poll campaign, while the BJP is working with a dedicated task force of advertising professionals.

The counter-advertising opens a new trend in political ad wars; the cut-throat advertising rivalry of the Cola and other consumer durables? companies seems to be rubbing off on media-savvy political parties.

There have been instances where companies like Pepsi and Coke have splashed the media with counter-ads. PepsiCo had responded to Coca-Cola getting the official sponsorship rights for the 1996 Cricket World Cup by unleashing a memorable series of ads whose punchline was: ?Pepsi, nothing official about it.?

Holding Pramod Mahajan as prime suspect, the Congress might now want to ask if there was anything ?official? about the leak of its own ads to the BJP.    

Bhubaneswar, Aug. 26 
A readymade garment seller was mutilated and burnt alive in a crowded weekly market in Mayurbhanj, prompting the police to suspect the hand of Dara Singh, prime accused in the January 23 killings of Australian missionary Graham Stewart Staines and his two sons in Manoharpur.

The incident took place at dusk at Pariabeda hat, under Thakurmunda police station. Residents said the victim, 29-year-old Sheikh Rahman, was attacked in the busy marketplace by Dara and his gang.

First Rahman had his hands chopped off, then he was wrapped up in some of the cloth that he was selling and set ablaze, they added. People rushed him to a nearby hospital after the gang left, but Rahman was pronounced dead.

Rahman?s neighbour, Sheikh Mukhtar, spoke to The Telegraph over the phone from Thakurmunda. He said Dara?s cronies had earlier threatened to kill Rahman if he visited the weekly market. But the trader did not take this seriously. ?He had thought Dara would not dare kill him after the Manoharpur incident,? said Mukhtar.

Rahman was the only Muslim trader left in the hat when the incident occurred. The rest fled as soon as the gang descended on the marketplace.

Rahman?s murder is similar in execution to that of the Staineses, who were burnt to death inside their car. The site of today?s killing is 30 km from Manoharpur.

Police superintendent Pradeep Kapoor and district collector R. Balakrishnan rushed to the area. The police officer was gheraoed by angry villagers. Orissa director-general of police Dilip Mohapatra is expected to reach Thakurmunda tomorrow.

Dara, a religious fanatic originally from Uttar Pradesh, had earlier also attacked and killed some Muslim cattle traders in Thakurmunda. He went into hiding after the Staines murder, when the police and the CBI launched a hunt for him. The security forces, however, failed to track him down, blaming their failure on non-cooperation by local villagers.

The CBI had even threatened the villagers with arrest if they did not stop shielding Dara. The murder accused posed as a ?saviour of Hinduism? and used to snatch cattle from the traders and distribute them among poor villagers.    

New Delhi, Aug. 26 
Rattled by the BJP?s flip-flop on including Ram Mandir in its agenda, party leader M. Venkaiah Naidu tried to clear some of the confusion by stating the issue would be shelved only until the next elections.

Only yesterday, Naidu had said on STAR News: ?Even if tomorrow we were to fight an election on our own and get 370 seats, we will not make Ram Mandir part of our election agenda.?

The National Democratic Alliance manifesto has pledged to put a moratorium on ?contentious? matters in a reference to Hindutva-specific issues.

Naidu declared the party was still committed to the NDA manifesto. But asked what the exact time-frame of the ?moratorium? was, he said: ?A manifesto is placed for five years. It is binding on the parties for the period for which they are elected.?

Naidu said that after the elections were over, his party would ?work in the direction of consensus? on the Ram Mandir issue. ?Even today, if you notice, no party is saying remove the temple (the makeshift temple on the demolished Babri mosque site) and put something else there.?

The temple topic, on which both the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had kept quiet during the Vajpayee government?s tenure, was revived last week by BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya.

In a recent interview, Govindacharya reiterated the party?s commitment to building the temple despite the NDA manifesto. He later claimed his views had been ?distorted? when the interview threatened to become an embarrassment for Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.    

New Delhi, Aug. 26 
Manmohan Singh is reaching out beyond South Ex and Greater Kailash and Safdarjung Enclave to convince voters that he is not an economist-politician of the beautiful people only.

South Delhi?s upper crust, the beneficiaries of the reform process he pioneered, warmed to him as they would to one of their own the moment his candidature was announced. But even Man-mohan Singh, despite his years in the ivory tower, knows that their vote will not take him past the post.

So Singh reaches out as best as he diffidently can to the milk vendor and the vegetable seller and the motor mechanic and the slum dweller.

In his crisp white kurta and pyjamas, Singh starts campaigning Wednesday morning near the Ghodawalla temple in Raghuveer Nagar, a large resettlement colony cheek by jowl with Rajouri Garden. It is where many refugees from the Punjab settled down after Partition.

Ghodawalla?s presiding deity is Baba Ram Dev, who is venerated by settlers from Kutch and Saurashtra who migrated to Delhi many decades ago.

Manmohan Singh would consider himself blessed by the Baba if a substantial chunk of the votes of the nearly 1,30,000 residents of Raghuveer Nagar go to him. ?It is a captive vote bank of the Congress,? insists Lakshmi Sabbharwal, general secretary of the residents? welfare association. ?In elections, vote banks are everything, not economic policies,? he sums up.

Sabbharwal and Sikh members of the association, together with the young legislator from Rajouri Garden, Ajay Maken, have put in their best to make Manmohan Singh?s ?padyatra? a success. Singh does not actually leg it, though.

He stands atop an open jeep with Maken and his men, followed by a cavalcade of cars, vans and scooters.

?You can?t really go on padyatras if you have just 15 days to reach out to 12 lakh voters,? explains Sardar Jaswant Singh, a Manmohan Singh aide. ?But the vehicle goes so slowly that it is as good as one.?

The former academic-turned politician?s first response is one of utter bewilderment as he is swamped with garlands at every turn. Old men, boys, women, girls ? everybody seems to be out on the streets even though it is a working day. ?Jeetega bhai jeetega, haath ka panja jeetega?, is the slogan raised most often, followed by praise for Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, in that order. For the inhabitants of South Delhi?s underbelly, clearly, the Congress? USP is the dynasty.

But an hour later, fortified with a glass of nimbu sherbet and some mithai, Manmohan gets into the mood and the routine. He garlands babies thrust towards him by eager parents. He even manages to bless them, he waves his hands and then folds them in namaste. On his face he pastes a beatific smile.

A local band belts out a continuous medley of Hindi film songs ranging from fifties hit Ik pardesi mera dil le gaya to our own Ek, do, teen. A group of women break out into an impromptu dance every now and then as if they are in a north Indian baraat, a bridegroom?s party.

Manmohan Singh seems to have broken the myth of voter fatigue, if the mood in Raghuveer Nagar is any indication. ?It is a positive sign. Ajay Maken seems to be working hard to make him win,? says Prakash Shastri, a resident.

So what if the former finance minister has not uttered a word, apart from ?namaste?? ?He is the best bet to save this country. Every gurdwara, mandir and masjid in this area has decided to support him,? claims Sabbharwal.

Four hours later, Manmohan is at his suave, erudite best as he addresses a group of businessmen of Hari Nagar at the Suhag Banquet Hall. The meeting has been convened at short notice, but the hall fills up in no time, mostly with Sikh businessmen.

Congress block general secretary Daljeet Singh Kalsi explains: ?South Delhi was such a Congress stronghold that in 1982, Arjun Singh won without active campaigning. But the 1984 anti-Sikh violence changed things. Even in the November 1998 Assembly polls, when there was such a pro-Congress wave in Delhi, the BJP?s Sikh candidate won from South Delhi. That is why senior members of the community personally appealed to Sonia Gandhi to field ?Doctor Sahab? from here for the Congress to regain its hold.? A little over half of Hari Nagar?s 7 lakh voters are Sikhs.

But the speeches delivered on the occasion by Sikhs ?local religious leaders and businessmen ? do not appeal to religious or communal sentiments. The speakers sing paeans to Manmohan Singh?s international repute as an economist and his role in salvaging the economy from the crisis.

Singh himself is brief but sharp. He harps on the stability theme and assures his constituents that he would strive to address specific issues.    

New Delhi, Aug. 26 
Rae Bareli is set to witness a battle royal between Nehru-Gandhi family retainer Satish Sharma and Rajiv Gandhi?s cousin Arun Nehru, the BJP candidate from the prestigious seat.

Sharma?s name figured on the second list of Congress candidates from Uttar Pradesh after intense lobbying and discussions. The Congress Working Committee sat till 4.30 am today to clear 17 names.

A lot of debate preceded Sharma?s selection, as some CWC members raised questions about his alleged role in the Jharkhand bribery case. However, the majority in the CWC felt an exception should be made in Sharma?s case in view of his ?loyalty? to the Nehru-Gandhi family.

Some leaders from Uttar Pradesh consider Sharma to be a ?lightweight? candidate compared with Arun Nehru, but others feel he will sail through due to Rae Bareli?s proximity to Amethi, from where Sonia Gandhi is contesting.

Among candidates cleared today were former chief minister N.D. Tiwari (Nainital) and Rita Bahuguna (Allahabad). Daughter of the late H.N. Bahuguna, she will take on human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

Rita?s elder brother Vijay is the Congress nominee from Tehri Garhwal, while former Union minister Satpal Maharaj has been fielded from Garhwal. Former Sewa Dal chief Harish Rawat is contesting from Almora.

A search is on to get a Thakur candidate for Sultanpur, which is adjacent to Amethi and Rai Bareli.

The Congress leadership is yet to find a leader fit to challenge Atal Behari Vajpayee in Lucknow. Sources said names being weighed are that of Dr Karan Singh, former navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat and former vice-chancellor of Lucknow university, Rekha Verma.

Once again, the CWC ignored the Panchmarhi declaration and gave tickets to Louise Fernandes, wife of Uttar Pradesh president Salman Khurshid, and Vibhakar Shastri, grandson of Lal Bahadur Shastri.

Raja Digvijay Narayan Singh, a relatively unknown Congress nominee, is fighting Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav at Kannauj. Yadav is also contesting from Sambhal in the state.

Former AICC secretary Satya Bahn is in the fray from Khurja, while Aligarh has gone to Usha Rani Tomar.

Mohsina Kidwai, former Union minister and CWC member, is unlikely to contest from Uttar Pradesh though her name came up for Muzaffarnagar and Domariagunj. Senior leaders said she had been asked to assist the Congress with campaigning.    

Today?s forecast: Possibility of light rain in some parts accompanied by thunder

Temperature: Maximum 33.9?C (2?C above normal)
Minimum 27.2?C (1?C above normal)

Relative humidity:Maximum 91%
Minimum 63%

Rainfall: 0.4mm

Sunset: 5.58 pm
Sunrise: 5.19 am

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