The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Vajpayee fights poll wrinkles

New Delhi, Dec. 8: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee tried to sound optimistic about the election outcome in Gujarat, despite thin attendance at BJP rallies, grim intelligence reports and alarming poll surveys.

When reporters wanted to know whether it would be a kaanta ka takkar (neck-and-neck race) between the BJP and the Congress, Vajpayee, with a shrug, asked: “Kaanta kahan hai' (Where are the thorns')”

The Prime Minister, who embarks on the second leg of electioneering tomorrow in Surat and Ahmedabad, was talking to a group of journalists at a get-together at his residence here today on the occasion of Id-ul-Fitr.

Vajpayee’s Id Milan received a lukewarm response as several leaders were away due to campaigning in Gujarat.

Among the prominent BJP allies in attendance were National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and his former party colleague, Saifuddin Soz, who is now with the Congress.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam attended the function in yet another departure from protocol.

Vajpayee greeted his guests twice, but the bonhomie and warmth usually associated with such an occasion was missing.

Although he did not look his usual self, he voiced confidence in the BJP’s chances. “We are winning,” he said.

However, the Prime Minister expressed displeasure over media reports that attendance at the BJP’s election rallies was thin. “This is totally false. I have seen the crowd,” he said.

Other who attended the party include Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, ministers Yashwant Sinha, Shanawaz Hussain, B.C. Khanduri, Ravi Shanker Prasad, Sahib Singh Verma, Vijay Goel, former President K.R. Narayanan, former Prime Ministers P.V. Narasimha Rao and Chandra Shekhar, as well as diplomats from Islamic countries, including Pakistan’s acting high commissioner Jalil Ahmed Jilani.

Celebrities Muzzafar Ali, Shabana Azmi and Nafisa Ali, besides CPI leader Suhasini Ali and several media personalities, also attended the function.

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