The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Woman power fuels Atal theme change

Hamirpur, Feb. 21: Tailoring his speech to suit the tastes of this soldier zone where women outnumber men, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today tempered references to Hindutva and focused on bread-and-butter issues.

But Vajpayee again expressed his outrage at being projected as a “beef-eater” by the Madhya Pradesh Congress.

He lavished praise on the devis of the land and promised to enact the jinxed women’s reservation Bill, seeking to pre-empt Sonia Gandhi who is scheduled to address a rally at the same venue in the BJP citadel. The BJP won all the five Assembly seats of this segment in the 1998 elections.

Trying to strike a chord among the two key segments of voters — women and jawans — Vajpayee said: “This dev bhoomi is not just dev bhoomi but devi bhoomi”, prompting a round of applause from women who had turned out in large numbers.

“Hamirpur is a centre of brave jawans. I pay respect to our martyrs. Out of the four jawans awarded for bravery after the Kargil conflict, two were from this district,” Vajpayee said.

Unlike his two election meetings in Mandi and Shimla yesterday, the Prime Minister toned down the “Hindutva” rhetoric and was silent on Ayodhya.

He said that when the BJP won in Gujarat, “they said we won because of Hindutva. I said there was nothing wrong in the word Hindutva. We did not rake it up. We talked about vikas (development). Hindutva is a way of life. It doesn’t denote religion”.

He said to mislead people for votes and to strengthen its votebank, the Congress ran a baseless campaign. “But still they lost in Gujarat and before that in Goa. Now they are preparing for defeat in Himachal.”

Referring to the Congress’ “beef” posters, Vajpayee said that in Madhya Pradesh, “they thought people worship cow and so wanted a campaign that Vajpayee ate beef. They printed posters and distributed them, but nobody will vote for them. They stand exposed”.

Most of his speech was devoted to issues concerning women, development, terrorism and Congress bashing. He also made an appeal to the state BJP leadership to sink their differences and work together for the victory of the party. Referring to astronaut Kalpana Chawla, Vajpayee said: “Hindustan ki ek ladki aakash mein gayi, now another one (Sunita Williams) is getting ready. Look at her courage.” If women want to work they should be provided opportunities, not just office jobs, but in all fields, he said.

Keeping in view the large number of rebel candidates in the fray and the infighting in the party, he told the people “to be wary of electing the wrong candidates. The party cannot give tickets to all. All cannot become MLAs and MPs. The party will decide. Official candidates should be supported,” Vajpayee said.

“The BJP is famous for its discipline, unlike other parties. But the disease has, of late, spread to the party also. “Kharbooj ko dekhe kharbhooj rang badalta hai” (water melon changes its colour seeing other water melons), he said, adding that there were some kharboojas in the BJP, too.

Referring to reports of infighting in the state BJP, Vajpayee said in Delhi also there was talk of an “Advani-Atal” fight. “I said no, there is no fight. We always worked together. When there are more utensils in the kitchen, sounds are bound to emanate.”

He appealed to the people to come out in large numbers and vote for the BJP.

Pointing out that counting was on March 1 — Shiv ratri — Vajpayee said he was glad that it was an auspicious day.

Describing the state as “sunder Pradesh”, he said the government was keen to market the tourism potential.

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