The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Magic Modi to cast hill spell
- BJP banks on Gujarat mascot to woo Himachal voters

Dec. 21: After Gujarat, the BJP is counting on Narendra Modi to retain Himachal Pradesh which goes to polls in February.

Modi, who takes oath as Gujarat chief minister in a lavish ceremony tomorrow, will campaign in the hill state where the Congress’ stock is on the rise following the dismal performance of the BJP-led government.

The BJP’s campaign will focus on development, governance, cultural nationalism, terrorism and the Centre’s policy on national security, spokesperson Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.

This was decided last night at a meeting of the BJP top brass, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on election strategy.

Confirming that Modi would “definitely” campaign, Naqvi said the detailed programme would be chalked out after the party’s working committee meeting. Other important leaders will also canvass in the hill state, he said.

Modi was party general secretary in charge of Himachal Pradesh before he was pulled out and put at the helm in poll-bound Gujarat, where the BJP appeared to be facing defeat as late as February, before the Godhra carnage.

His swearing-in tomorrow afternoon promises to be spectacular like the victory that has turned him into the BJP’s man of the moment. In a break from tradition, the Prime Minister will attend the crowning of the chief minister.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, chief ministers Jayalalithaa, Manohar Parrikar, Om Prakash Chautala, Babulal Marandi and a galaxy of VIPs will also be present at Sardar Patel stadium when Modi takes oath. Sadhus from across the country have been invited to bless his second innings.

Four stages have been erected for the ceremony, which is scheduled to start at 2 pm. One is for the Prime Minister and his deputy, another for the swearing-in, a third to accommodate sadhus and the fourth for other VIP guests, Ahmedabad district collector Sunaina Tomar said. An elevator has been installed for the use of the Prime Minister and Governor S.S. Bhandari, both of whom have knee problems.

The stage for the swearing-in has 18 chairs and that for the sadhus about 50. However, no one has a clue to how many members will be inducted in Modi’s “token ministry”. “We are not supposed to know anything about it. It is the chief minister’s prerogative,” senior party leader Jayanti Barot said.

Modi has not consulted any state leaders on the issue. After he was elected leader of the BJP legislature party, he had warned MLAs: “Until I invite you for the swearing-in, do not trust anyone. You will be inducted in the Cabinet only if you get a call from me.”

The political situation in the country after the BJP’s sweep in Gujarat will figure in the national executive scheduled to begin on Monday. The meeting will discuss in detail the party’s strategy for Himachal Pradesh, Tripura, Nagaland and Meghalaya, which got to polls simultaneously.

The Prime Minister will deliver the valedictory address at the national executive, to be attended by Advani, several Central ministers and Modi.

Last night’s meeting on the Himachal elections at Vajpayee’s residence was a “preliminary one” and was attended by chief minister P.K. Dhumal, party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and minister for rural development Shanta Kumar.

The BJP is planning to launch a fortnight-long “Vikas Chetna” (developmental awareness) drive between December 25 and January 12 in Himachal Pradesh. December 25 is Vajpayee’s birthday and January 12 is the birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda.

Apart from elections, the Kelkar report on tax reforms will top the agenda of the national executive, Naqvi said.

Following strong criticism by party members that the Kelkar recommendations were anti-middle class and salaried class, the BJP had set up a committee headed by former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Rajnath Singh to study the report. The panel has submitted its findings to the party high command.

The central office bearers’ meeting, chaired by Venkaiah Naidu, has approved the political resolution to be taken up at the executive.

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