The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Full house becomes half minus fireworks

New Delhi, Aug. 10: The crowd was there in full strength at the Indira Gandhi Stadium here for the launch of the BJP’s Parivartan rally.

But by the time “star speaker” L.K. Advani took the dais an hour-and-a-half into the meeting, people began filtering out. The BJP had just launched its campaign for the Delhi polls, scheduled for November.

The packed stadium was half empty by the time Advani had finished speaking, with people still trickling out steadily.

Perhaps the crowd had expected some BJP fireworks after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi yesterday blasted the Vajpayee government over the Ram temple movement and the defence ministry’s stand on the Central Vigilance Commission report on arms purchases for the Kargil war.

But in marked contrast to Sonia’s launch of her party’s Delhi poll campaign that had steered clear of local issues, the deputy Prime Minister stuck to the election at hand.

Projecting Madan Lal Khurana as Delhi’s next chief minister, he said: “You have to change not only the chief minister of Delhi but its shape as well.”

Advani was referring to a bill to grant Delhi full statehood. He said the home ministry had already prepared the draft of the bill. “The statehood bill will be introduced in this (monsoon) session of Parliament,” he said and hoped the entire House would support it.

“Delhi should get statehood and it is a part of our manifesto,” Advani said.

Though his announcements were greeted with steady applause, the stream of people trickling out of the stadium never stopped.

Advani even said he had never before seen such a huge gathering in the stadium. When the rally began an hour late at noon, the stadium was indeed nearly full as all buses carrying BJP supporters had arrived.

But with Advani studiously avoiding any adverse remarks about Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, a favourite target of all the other speakers, the crowd appeared disinclined to hear out the “star speaker”.

Instead, he dwelt on the history of Delhi politics an hour-and-a-half after the meeting had begun in the stuffy stadium.

Earlier, Khurana, the Delhi BJP chief and Lok Sabha MP, met the same fate. People started walking out half an hour into the meeting though most speakers, like Khurana, reserved their ammunition for Dikshit.

An unfazed Advani kept the focus on Delhi and a master plan for the national capital territory. “Delhi needs to be clean and beautiful…. But Delhiites also have to be happy and prosperous. These things have been kept in view while framing the guidelines (for the master plan),” he said.

People from across the country come to Delhi, so it is a “mini India”, Advani said. “All of them should be comfortable, prosperous and have a feeling of having a future here.”

He cited Hyderabad, capital of NDA ally . Chandrababu Naidu’s Andhra Pradesh, as a model. “Yesterday, I was in Hyderabad. Chief minister Chandrababu Naidu told me this was the health capital in the country. Why can Delhi not be like this'” Advani said.

“If Chandrababu Naidu can change the face of Hyderabad, so can the BJP,” he said.

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