New Delhi, Oct. 25: Talkatora Stadium — the venue of the NDA’s third birthday celebration — filled up only 10 minutes before Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee arrived to deliver his speech at the close of the rally.
The 11 am kick-off had to be delayed by 35 minutes as speakers waited for an audience. It was Chautala’s jat supporters, brought in from neighbouring towns in Haryana, and a sprinkling of Akali Dal workers who saved the NDA from embarrassment. BJP’s Madanlal Khurana, who was in charge of mobilising support for the rally, paced up and down waiting for the crowd to trickle in.
Vajpayee arrived almost two hours after the start of the meet, at 1.15 pm, just after the indoor stadium had filled to capacity.
Barring Mamata Banerjee and Chandrababu Naidu, who was invited though he is not a member of the coalition, the NDA turned out in full strength.
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, NDA convener George Fernandes, BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu, Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala and former chief ministers Farooq Abdullah and Parkash Singh Badal were present at the meet, called to trumpet the government’s achievements.
But due to the late start, at least six leaders from among the alliance partners did not get a chance to speak. They were Shiv Sena’s Chandrakant Khaire, Biju Janata Dal’s Arjun Charan Sethi, PMK’s P.D. Elangovan and leaders from the Himachal Vikas Party, Sikkim Democratic Front and Rashtriya Janata Dal (R). The Sena is certain to see this as a slight.
The rally was a sedate affair, barring the speeches of Vajpayee and Abdullah. Most speakers underlined that this was the first non-Congress government to complete three years in office and said it would serve the full term.
Apart from attacking the Congress, the speakers praised Vajpayee, with DMK’s T.R. Baalu describing him as a tall and towering leader and “hero of federalism”.
Initially, the rally was planned as a BJP-only affair and former Delhi chief minister Khurana was to mobilise the crowd. Later, it was expanded to include the entire NDA.
Fernandes was not his usual fiery self. On the recent decision to withdraw troops from the border with Pakistan, he explained that the objective of restraining Islamabad through a diplomatic offensive had been achieved. “Pakistan has been shown its place,” he said.
Chautala attacked the Congress, demanded nationalisation of all rivers, a hike in old age pension and waiving of interest on loans to farmers.
Badal accused the Congress government of witch-hunting and alleged democracy was in danger in the state. “Even to go to the toilet, one needs police protection,” he said. He asked the NDA leadership to “take care” of its allies in the state.