Another ABP employee?s body found in rubble
Tame poll, shrill cries of victory
Partisan radioactivity in Pokhran
Skipper Sourav to be as good as team
Advantage Mulayam in BJP bastion
Laloo on ?crocodile? hunt
Rail officials kidnapped
Congress grabs Mahajan gift of gaffe
Scorned sadhu vows revenge
To the readers

 
 
ANOTHER ABP EMPLOYEE?S BODY FOUND IN RUBBLE 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
The body of the employee, who was missing since Friday?s blaze in ABP Ltd?s office, was recovered from the rubble today.

Samesh Dhar could not be traced hours after the fire that ravaged the top floor of the four-storeyed building.

There was no sign of him even yesterday, giving rise to fears he may have been trapped on the third floor that has been reduced to ashes.

The third floor housed the editorial office of the Anandabazar Patrika, accounts, advertisement and circulation departments of the company.

Workers were clearing the mounds of black bricks and twisted metal when a rotting stench emanated from what was once the Anandabazar newsroom.

They were chipping away at the debris around 3.30 pm, lifting burnt furniture and mangled beams when they located the severely charred body. Dhar was found exactly where he used to sleep at night.

The officer-in-charge of Bowbazar police station, Ashit Chakraborty, said Dhar was probably sleeping when he suffocated.

The body was taken to the police morgue for post-mortem. Dhar, 35, joined the company 17 years ago as a peon. He is survived by his wife and two sons.Dhar?s body was identified by his elder brother Somnath.

Another peon of the company, Kinkar Kumar Jana, died of suffocation on Friday while he voluntarily attended to phone calls.

Early this morning, a team of senior police officials and forensic experts visited the affected floor and collected samples from the rubble for tests.

The deputy commissioner of police (detective department), Narayan Ghosh, along with forensic experts N.K. Nag and Dhruba Marjit surveyed what was once the accounts department and cashier?s office.

The preliminary forensic report yesterday said the fire had in all probability started from the accounts office located on the northwestern side of the building and then spread to the rest of the floor.

The team, however, said experts will return tomorrow when the formal forensic investigation begins to collect more samples.

?We will concentrate on the accounts department and the cashier?s office,?? an expert said.

As forensic experts surveyed the bed of bricks and metal, labourers brought the twisted almirahs and beams out of the building and placed them on the sidewalk. Two lorry-loads of debris were removed today.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today called up the chief editor of the ABP Group of Publications, Aveek Sarkar, and expressed grief at the loss of two lives and offered his sympathy to the bereaved families.

The Prime Minister said he believed the company would emerge from the ashes stronger than before. Assam chief minister Prafulla Mahanta also called up the chief editor and expressed his sympathy.

Hundreds streamed into Prafulla Sarkar Street through the day offering assurances. Anandabazar Patrika and The Telegraph received scores of letters from readers.

The Publishers and Booksellers? Guild, which organises the annual Book Fair, sent a note pledging to stand by the company ?in this hour of crisis?.

The Book Fair itself was ravaged by a massive blaze in January 1997, but it re-opened in a few days.    


 
 
TAME POLL, SHRILL CRIES OF VICTORY 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept. 5: 
Barring stray incidents of violence in Andhra Pradesh and Punjab, the first phase of polling in 145 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over 16 states and Union territories was peaceful.

According to preliminary reports, the poll percentage was not quite high and hovered around 55. In some states like Jammu and Kashmir it was low as expected. Only 15 per cent of the electorate voted in Srinagar. In Bellary, 60 per cent exercised their franchise.

A satisfied Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill said this evening that it had rained in Delhi as the polling was drawing to a close and this was a good omen. He was confident the rest of the country would experience peaceful polling in the next four phases.

Both the BJP and the Congress claimed success, with each declaring the much-vaunted Bellary constituency as its own.

While BJP spokesman Govindacharya stressed that ?Sushma Swaraj will win in Bellary by a margin of over a lakh votes?, his Congress counterpart Kapil Sibal challenged the claim.

?Swaraj said she will win by a margin of one lakh. I would like to speak to her after the results are declared,? said Sibal. Bellary, he declared, had overwhelmingly voted for Sonia Gandhi.

The BJP claimed it was going to rake in huge electoral profits in the South. But the Congress asserted the people were not going to tolerate the BJP?s ?unholy? alliance with 24 constituents.

?The Telugu Desam-BJP alliance is heading for a huge defeat in Andhra Pradesh,? said Sibal. He cited anti-incumbency wave and worsening law and order as the reasons for the people?s disenchantment with the combine.

Five persons were killed in violence in the Cudappah constituency of Andhra Pradesh. A Desam polling agent was killed when alleged Congress workers detonated crude bombs in the Kamalapuram Assembly segment. In another incident in the same constituency, the police fired to disperse warring groups of political activists, killing four.

In an isolated incident in Jammu and Kashmir, five voters, including a woman, were seriously injured when pro-Pakistan militants fired upon them in Badgam district. Anti-poll demonstrators were involved in a skirmish with security personnel in six sensitive pockets in Srinagar.

In Punjab, two persons were injured in an exchange of fire between Congress and Akali Dal activists at Ferozepur, while a journalist was roughed up in Faridkot.

At Nirvachan Sadan, the CEC gave details of the poll percentage in various states. Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Pondicherry touched the 60 per cent polling mark. Andhra Pradesh recorded the highest turnout of voters of around 65 per cent. In Karnataka, 62 per cent of the electorate cast ballots.

Most other states had a moderate average of between 50 and 55. In Goa, Gujarat and Delhi, the poll percentage was quite low.

Gill explained that in Gujarat, people have been traditionally apathetic to parliamentary elections and, unless Lok Sabha and Assembly polls were simultaneous, they seldom turned up in huge numbers. In Delhi, the campaigning had never reached a fever pitch and a low voter presence was on the cards.

In Goa, where elections are taken more seriously, possibly too many polls in recent times had sparked a degree of voter fatigue. However, the CEC said heavy rain today prevented voters in Goa from queuing up. Bad weather and rough seas prevented the despatch of ballot boxes to six polling stations in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

The CEC said repoll is likely in only about 60 booths, compared to 160 last year in the same constituencies. He added that there had been few problems in the 30,000-odd polling stations which witnessed electronic voting.

Bullet to ballot

Kargil, Matayen, Drass and Turtuk, part of the Operation Vijay battle zone, recorded one of the largest voter turnouts in the country.

Just two months ago, fears of an escalation in fighting had triggered an exodus from these areas to refugee camps.

In Kargil town, Zanskar and Turtuk, the poll percentage crossed 70.

Said Abdul Shakur of Drass: ?We had to vote because the state government has promised us help to survive the coming winter.?

In Srinagar, however, the boycott call given by the separatists made a dent. Polling was largely peaceful, but most stations were deserted.    


 
 
PARTISAN RADIOACTIVITY IN POKHRAN 
 
 
FROM KAY BENEDICT
 
Pokhran, Sept. 5: 
In Pokhran, support for the BJP is protection against radioactivity. Congress sympathisers are not as immune.

Radiation from the nuclear tests here last year seems to have afflicted most Bishnois, who are committed Congress supporters. Many residents of Khetolai, a Bishnoi village three km from Pokhran, complain of a burning sensation and itching in their eyes. More important, they allege that hundreds of their cattle have died of ?unidentified radiation-related? diseases.

Multaram, a weather-beaten villager sporting a soiled yellow turban, said 40 of his 150 cows have died over the past three months. Birdha Ram, another villager, said 20 of his cows died in six months.

The BJP says the disease is in the mind. ?The Bishnois are habitual liars. They are exaggerating,? said Raghubir Singh, a BJP supporter from Didani village. Bhoor Singh and Agar Singh of Shankara village echoed the allegation.

However, veterinary compounder Ajit Singh, who has been in Khetolai for 10 years, said the cattle were afflicted. Several cows had died over the past few months, he said. ?Calves are born with lumps under their ears and front legs, and die after a few days. This is the first time I have seen such a disease,? he said.

Rasheed Mohammed, sarpanch of Didani, said the milk yield has diminished since Pokhran II. ?The milk is drying up inside the udder and solidifying,? he said.

Following up the complaints, a central veterinary team visited Khetolai two weeks ago and took milk samples. ?There is no veterinary doctor here. The authorities are not taking any interest. What can I do alone? I have no expertise. There are about 1,400 cows in the area,? the compounder says.

The Bishnois are blaming the BJP. The villages surrounding the blast site are inhabited mostly by the spirited Congress supporters who are politically very conscious. ?In 1974, Indira Gandhi conducted the test very well. Nothing happened to us then. Indiraji took care of us,? says Nathuram Bishnoi.

But then, the Bishnois accuse the BJP of anything. Mina Ram, another Bishnoi villager, unravelled the mystery of the onion crisis last year which felled the BJP governments in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. ?Do you know what caused the shortage? The Vajpayee government brought tonnes of onions and buried the bulbs around the blast site to lessen the stench from the nuclear blast,? he explains.

Pokhran, about 180 km from Jodhpur, is in Jaisalmer district. It falls under the Barmer Lok Sabha constituency where Congress candidate Col Sona Ram is pitted against the BJP?s Manvendra Singh, son of foreign minister Jaswant Singh.

There now is talk of burying the nuclear waste in Pokhran. The waste will reportedly be put in vitrified glass boxes and be kept in a vault with instruments to measure the radioactivity.

There was no confirmation from the government, however, of such a plan.

The Bishnois are also not aware of it, worried as they are about the radiation. ?Please tell Maneka Gandhi to do something. Nobody is helping us,? appeals Ajit Singh, the veterinary compounder, as a last resort.    


 
 
SKIPPER SOURAV TO BE AS GOOD AS TEAM 
 
 
BY LOKENDRA PRATAP SAHI
 
Calcutta, Sept. 5: 
Late last year, Sourav Ganguly was disappointed when he wasn?t named vice-captain for the New Zealand tour. This February, he was upset at not getting the No. 2 job for the one-Test trip to Sri Lanka.

So much so, Sourav told a confidant: ?Henceforth, I?m not going to hope for anything. What is destined, will happen.?

Today, destiny played its hand: Sourav will be captain for the three-match series vs the West Indies in Toronto (September 11-14).

Of course, the appointment has everything to do with Sachin Tendulkar and Ajay Jadeja?s non-availability, but Sourav will now be captain for a series, not one session (as in Toronto last year) or one day (today, in Singapore).

?Yes, the circumstances have given me the captaincy... Does feel nice but, frankly, right now I?m focussed on Tuesday?s final (against the Windies)... I?ll think of Toronto after that,? Sourav told The Telegraph this evening.

He would have sounded better had India won this afternoon.

Contacted at the Holiday Inn Park, Sourav added: ?What I do know, though, is that the Windies will be tough. We?ll have to play out of our skins... Remember, the Toronto-bound team is very young (rookies Jacob Martin of Baroda and Delhi?s Amit Bhandari are the replacements)... ?Bottomline is that we?ll have to bat like champions in conditions which specially favour seamers.?

Few know Toronto better. The 1996 series vs Pakistan left Sourav with painful memories ?- he was even dropped, for which Sandeep Patil paid heavily ?- but 1997 was phenomenal.

Sourav bagged Man of the Match awards in four of the five games besides being adjudged Man of the Series. The jump from star to superstar was made.

Last year, however, getting injured didn?t help and, overall, the series (again against Pakistan) actually was disappointing. Sourav had gone as Mohammed Azharuddin?s deputy.

So, going by the Toronto-trend, 1999 should see something of 1997.

?It?s nice that I?ll be taking charge on familiar ground... There shouldn?t be additional pressure, but everyone must accept that neither will one always be successful, nor will one always fail,? Sourav remarked.

As Sourav (and wife Dona) had to leave for the official dinner, there was time for just one more question: What made a good captain?

Sourav laughed, then answered: ?I don?t have a role-model, but a captain is only as good as his team... A good team makes a good captain...?    


 
 
ADVANTAGE MULAYAM IN BJP BASTION 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA IN KANNAUJ
 
 
The Grand Trunk Road begins its ascent through north India and upwards to Delhi from Kanpur. It cuts through the ravines of Behmai, onward to the Yadav belt of Etawah, Mainpuri, Kannauj and Farrukhabad and onward to west Uttar Pradesh before it reaches Delhi. The topography rapidly changes from urban skyscrapers to dusty and barren ravines. So does the colour of politics in this belt.

Election ?99 in this belt is all about personalities and their fortunes, and about caste equations. The industrial city of Kanpur and its adjoining constituencies of Ghatampur and Bilhaur should be a cakewalk for the BJP. All its candidates had won by wide margins in 1998 and look set to repeat their performances. Luckily for the BJP, the anti-incumbency current against the Kalyan Singh government has been more than offset by the Vajpayee factor.

The Prime Minister has relatives based here and has spent a considerable part of his youth in the bylanes of Kanpur. The Kargil factor and his personality are the sure winning factors for the BJP vis-a-vis the three seats of this district. Even the trading community, which has gone against the BJP in parts of the state, stands firm in Kanpur. Pushpendra Saraf, one of the city?s largest jewellers, says: ?When we see the lotus, we think of Vajpayee. Kargil and Pokhran are symbols of the nation?s pride. Every member of Parliament counts, so we are not going to fail him.?

But the political equations change as one leaves Ghatampur and moves towards the ravines. This is the heart of the caste belt of this region where Yadav supremacy and the polarisation of other backward classes such as the Lodhs in favour of the Samajwadi Party could dent the BJP?s fortunes. At stake in the Yadav belt is the political future of four politicians, three of whom are not contesting the elections.

However, Samajwadi chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, the lone politician who is contesting the polls, looks likely to be the biggest beneficiary due to a combination of factors. For Kalyan Singh, the situation is most unenviable. His protege, the controversial Sakshi Maharaj, has been denied a ticket from Farrukhabad, a move designed to clip the chief minister?s wings.

Sakshi, a prominent Lodh leader, looks set to damage the BJP?s chances in Etawah, Farrukhabad and Etah ? seats which it won last year. If the BJP does manage to perform well, Kalyan?s relations with Sakshi will suffer, something the chief minister can ill afford. If the BJP does suffer a setback in this region, it is Kalyan again who will be in the line of fire. Linked to this is Sakshi?s own future as politician and, more importantly, a Lodh leader of Uttar Pradesh.

There is little hope for a Congress comeback here. Party candidates, including state Congress president Salman Khurshid, in this belt lost their deposits in 1998. Khurshid?s wife, Louise Fernandes, a journalist by profession, has been fielded by the party this time, much to the surprise of local Congressmen. Louise Khurshid has spent little time in the constituency and will be lucky if she bags the second place.

For her husband, it is a prestige battle. ?It does not matter how many seats the Congress wins in the state. Those victories will have no meaning if my wife does not win,? he says.

Mulayam still walks tall in this region though his opponent, Arvind Pratap Singh of the Loktantrik Congress Party, may put up a tough fight.

Singh, former Samajwadi MLA, left the party early this month for not being given a ticket from Farrukhabad from where he contested last time.

For Mulayam, his contest from Kannauj is also a homecoming . In 1998, the Samajwadi chief, for the first time in his career, contested from outside this belt when he fought from Sambhal, in Moradabad, in 1998. ?My partymen complained that I had left them in 1998. I couldn?t stay away this time,?? he says. Mulayam has also indicated that if he wins both Sambhal and Kannauj, he will retain the latter ?but only if I win by a huge margin?.

For his party workers this is the biggest challenge. Ashok Saxena, a local Samajwadi worker manning the party?s central election office in Kannauj, says: ?Our fight is not with Arvind Pratap Singh. It is with our party workers in Sambhal.?

What is at stake here is also the Brahmin-Thakur-Lodh unity which favoured the BJP. Sakshi, through his whirlwind tours and fiery campaign speeches, has not only caused a dent in Lodh votes in Farrukhabad, but could cause a complete shift in Etah and Kannauj in favour of the Samajwadi Party.    


 
 
LALOO ON ?CROCODILE? HUNT 
 
 
FROM TAPAS CHAKRABORTY IN GAYA
 
 
In his aggressive first round of campaigning, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Laloo Prasad Yadav launched an attack on the soft belly of a ?crocodile? to control its hard snout.

The crocodile, he said, is the BJP-Janata Dal (United) combine, parties who are members of the National Democratic Alliance.

The ?animal? has threatened to devour Bihar?s Dalits and backwards, struggling to break free from feudal operation, Laloo warned. ?In times of calamity, animals rush for safe places, some of them are predators to others. But in times of crisis, they don?t bite each other. They co-exist,? he said in Bihar Sharif.

The reference was obviously to the NDA. ?That is how Ram Vilas Paswan and Sharad Yadav have tied the knot with the BJP. They don?t snipe at each other anymore,? said the backward messiah.

At Kurtah and Masaudi in Jehanabad, the RJD chief termed Janata Dal a ?jantu dal (animal party)? in which Paswan, his former party colleague, is without a spine. ?He always crawls and betrays the cause,? Laloo says. ?He crawled to Samata last year to win from Hajipur. He has knelt to the BJP now.?

Earlier, in Gaya, Laloo wooed Dalits and backwards with a Hindi song: ?O door ke musafir, hum ko bhi sath le le, hum rah gaye akele (O lonely traveller, take me along, too. I have been left alone).?

Renewing his pledge to uplift of backwards, Laloo stirred a rather glum crowd at Kurtah with his trademark wit: ?You are our power. We are just electric bulbs. When you generate power we glow and lead you into life.?

He held up a lantern, his party?s election symbol, and turned up its flame, looking dim in daylight. ?Keep the lantern light on,? he roared. The crowd drooled.

Aware that his Yadav supporters are not as enthusiastic as before and Dalits are confused after the departure of leaders like Paswan, Laloo replaced the emotion in his speeches with ruthless sarcasm at his detractors.

Instead of long, wordy and animated deliveries, he went for brief speeches, punctuated by posers to the crowd. In Gaya, he asked if the Dalits would prefer to be wiped out by Ranvir Sena men or fight back. The crowd responded with a vow to fight.

In Bihar Sharif, he was asked why Dalits in the area were yet to get houses under Indira Awas Yojana. ?Let me find out. The contractor must have been corrupt. If you don?t get houses by the next elections, I will not show my face to you,? Laloo said.

But he lauded the person who asked. ?This is what I was able to do: make you inquire.?

Coinciding his campaign launch on Janmashthami, Laloo sent messages to his Yadav brethren. ?Lord Krishna was born on this day. He was taken out of the clutches of a dragon. He grew up to establish truth,? said the message.

Turning up the lantern light, he said: ?This may have been the light that guided the Yadavs who rescued the lord. In this lantern is a flicker of hope to use against the dragon that is the BJP.?

By the time Laloo attended the last rally at Masaudi in Jehanabad, it was evening. From Masaudi, he got onto a large bus ? ?a garib raath? ? and proceeded to Patna.

This turned out to be Laloo?s sojourn through the Dalit belts.

Hundreds of Dalits thronged both sides of the Patna-Gaya road in the night, waiting for their messiah. More alive than crowds in maidans, they were spontaneous in offering gifts to the RJD chief. Some came up with fish.

Laloo accepts all the offering. Further on the way, a Yadav gives him a can full of milk.

Often the Dalits, as if propelled by a surreal energy, move from one stop to another, holding their lanterns in hand, following the RJD chief?s convoy.

Replaying his theatrics, something between mime and a marshall act, Laloo wove the yarn of a dragon threatening to devour Dalits.

The tired faces of Kahars and Chamars lit up under the flicker of lantern. Facing a ?Mahabharata of the ballot war?, Laloo may be encountering the toughest elections of his time. But even his detractors in politics admit he cannot be written off.    


 
 
RAIL OFFICIALS KIDNAPPED 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
Patna, Sept. 5: 
Naxalites kidnapped six railway officials this morning in a fresh strike on Palamau district of South Bihar.

Four officials were later released while two are being held hostage, highly placed sources said. The abductors, belonging to the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), have demanded a ransom of Rs 10 lakh within 24 hours.

Ten railway officials from the Dhanbad division, including chief safety officer David Topno and senior divisional engineer Mukesh Jain, had gone to inspect the tracks between Richughata and Chatra stations around 9.15 am today.

About 25 to 30 armed MCC extremists ambushed the officials and forced six of them into a nearby jungle, Ashish Ranjan Sinha, IG Railway Police, said.

Panic has gripped railway circles in Daltongunge and Patna following the incident.

The Railway Protection Force and the district police have launched a joint combing operation. State director-general of police K.A. Jacob has instructed the Ranchi division police to search the area.

The Railway IG, Ranchi division, has reached the spot along with superintendent of police, Palamau, Rabindra Singh. They expressed surprise that the officials had ventured into the Naxalite-infested territory without escorts.

The MCC has unleashed a pre-poll reign of terror in parts of Gaya district, attacking homes of politicians and traders and demanding money. The extremists yesterday attacked the house of one Avtar Singh in Bindalini in Gaya district, dragged out his son and hacked him to death.

They had earlier threatened to gun down Union finance minister Jaswant Singh when he was electioneering in Hazaribagh.

The Naxalite outfit had called for a boycott of the polls.    


 
 
CONGRESS GRABS MAHAJAN GIFT OF GAFFE 
 
 
FROM HARISH NAMBIAR IN SOLAPUR
 
 
For many in this small town, Solapur means Sushil Kumar Shinde. The peon who became a member of Parliament celebrated his birthday on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls.

?This is my constituency. It has given me everything, made me what I am from what I was, a Dalit peon. That we are seeing a Dalit winning from a general seat like this is the best validation possible of Dr Ambedkar?s Constitution,? Shinde says.

It is true that Solapur seems not to be looking too far from Shinde, the sitting MP. He knows that. ?Pramod Mahajan and Kushabhau Thakre keep speaking as if they are the vanguard of Indian culture. To me, Thakre does not seem to know who Monica Lewinsky is or what she is famous for,? he says.

?Mahajan?s comparing of Sonia Gandhi to Monica Lewinsky certainly has put off the people. He has done us a major favour. And so has George Fernandes,? says Shinde.

Shinde?s confidence about his seat is borne out by the fact that Sonia Gandhi has not even bothered to address a public rally in Solapur. Party sources said she is confident that Shinde needs no help to win from here.

On the other hand, Shinde?s help has been enlisted to galvanise the Uttar Pradesh election machinery. After polling in Solapur, Shinde, who is also general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, is scheduled to fly to Delhi and then go to Uttar Pradesh.

Shinde is perceived to be a friend of the common people of his constituency.

Virbhadra Bahadur, a bus driver, speaks of how he went to Shinde after being told he had to shell out Rs 50,000 for a permanent job with the state government.

?Saab told me to wait for the elections to get over. He said he would look into the matter after that. I am sure he will work something out,? Bahadur said.

To make things easier, Shinde has no powerful rival to contend with. The influence of Sharad Pawar?s Nationalist Congress Party is marginal in Solapur.

The NCP?s Gangappa Abdulpurkar poses little challenge. Compared to him, the BJP?s Balirayya Valyal is a stronger candidate.

Valyal won the seat in 1996 by a margin of 17,087 votes. Shinde, then a Rajya Sabha member, however, was not in the fray. His replacement came third, beaten even by the Janata Dal candidate.

When Shinde returned to the fray in 1998, he lost no time in making it known that he was king in Solapur. He beat Valyal by a margin of over one lakh votes.

Shinde is confident about not just his own performance but that of the Congress in Maharashtra.

?The party will do better than what it did in 1998,? he says. Winning more than 38 seats in Maharashtra this time, however, will take some doing.    


 
 
SCORNED SADHU VOWS REVENGE 
 
 
FROM SUJAY GUPTA IN FARRUKHABAD
 
 
There is a tale in these badlands of central-west Uttar Pradesh that is not the place for holy men. Only dacoits, robinhoods and self-styled do-gooders rule the roost here.

There is another tale being told in these ravines a fortnight before the first phase of elections in the state.

A saffron-clad sadhu with a flowing beard, fiery rhetoric, cellphone in hand and an entourage of gun-totting youth, is moving from village to village, small town to hamlets, urging voters ?to demolish the BJP?. He has vowed to reduce the BJP from 57 to eight seats in Uttar Pradesh and claims he is doing this for the ?good? of chief minister Kalyan Singh.

Meet Kalyan Singh?s robinhood, Swami Sakshi Maharaj, the outgoing BJP member of Parliament from Farrukhabad, who was denied a ticket to contest again.

An old ally of Kalyan, Sakshi has quit the BJP and is campaigning vigorously for the Samajwadi Party. Like a man possessed, Sakshi has decided to get every Lodh Rajput from backward caste to which, he and Kalyan Singh belong to, and vote against the BJP in the polls.

Kalyan, on the other hand, has been silent on all matters concerning Sakshi, but has given enough evidence of his tacit support by refusing to come to Farrukhabad and other districts of this belt to campaign for BJP candidates.

If the avenging sadhu succeeds, the BJP could well end up losing Etawah and Farrukhabad, and not gain Mainpuri and Kannauj, which it lost to the Samajwadi Party in 1998. These four seats form the core of the Yadav, Lodh belt, Mulayam Singh Yadav?s stronghold in central-west Uttar Pradesh.

Tracking this fast-paced sadhu is not easy. He leaves his ashram early in Etah, adjoining Etawah on the Delhi-Agra road before a series of meetings ? some organised, others mostly impromptu. The swami has Z-category security after threats to his life, following his alleged involvement in the murder of Brahmadutt Dwivedi, a popular BJP leader in this region.

But official securitymen are an insignificant part of his entourage.

Those holding centrestage are Mulayam?s ?youth brigade?, and the ?Lodhi youth brigade?, which are the swami?s own creation.

The swami?s ?worldly possessions? include a Rolex watch and a pair of Reebok shoes, forming a forward touch to his efforts backward unity. Every meeting begins with a pledge to defeat the BJP and ensure Lodh and backward caste unity. ?The BJP has decided to remove Kalyan Singh after the elections. Denying me a ticket was a way of humiliating him. Vajpayee tried to defeat me in 1998. But I won. The only way to stop me was not to give me a ticket. Atal will now know Sakshi?s power.?

At every meeting, Samajwadi candidates join him on stage and touch Sakshi?s feet for the customary ?ashirvads?. But he doesn?t speak a word. In a virtual repeat of what Jayalalitha does in Tamil Nadu, Samajwadi candidates do not travel in the same car as Sakshi?s. He is always a car behind, always silent.

   


 
 
TO THE READERS 
 
 
 
 
The Telegraph website is a truncated edition today because of Friday?s fire with links to the east section. We hope to bring you the full edition soon. Please bear with us.   More on ABP's fire on 3rd September 1999
   
 

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