The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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‘Progress’ PM plays party’s poll mascot

New Delhi, Nov. 9: A saffron-robed sanyasin, a fiery votary of “shuddhikaran”, a fading maharani and a former symbol of the capital’s former Punjabi bastion are clearly not the BJP’s best bet as star campaigners.

So whether it is “within striking distance” of power in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh or “locked in a neck-and-neck contest” in Rajasthan or “picking up by inches” in Delhi, the BJP’s most bankable entity for the Assembly polls is the “vikas purush” Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

The Prime Minister is the party’s mascot and not Uma Bharti, Vasundhara Raje, Madan Lal Khurana or Dilip Singh Judeo, the undeclared candidate for the Chhattisgarh chief minister’s post.

Sources said it was not so much Vajpayee’s “evergreen charm” or “teflon-coated acceptability” they were counting on as the perception that his name had become “synonymous with development”.

The BJP, they said, willy-nilly fell back on the Prime Minister because of the decision to make development the principal poll plank. “We are determined to shatter the myth that elections can be won only on emotive issues and not because of lack of power, water and roads,” a source said.

As a result, the NDA government’s development dossier — imprinted with the Golden Quadrilateral project, rural road and phone connectivity, and Sarva Shikhsha Abhiyaan — will be the magic wand.

The party has realised that Bharti, Vasundhara and Judeo are not the most credible of faces or voices to articulate the theme.

While saffron-robed sanyasin Bharti has apparently been put through an image makeover to pass the test half-way in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will rely almost entirely on Vajpayee.

Bharti’s campaign mentor Arun Jaitley has managed to ensure she speaks of little else other than development, sources emphasised. “Her Hindutva image does not need to be underlined. It’s the first thing people associate with her,” one of them said.

“What we are stressing is that she comes from a poor and backward-caste family, so she will be able to understand better the problems and issues of the disadvantaged sections than (chief minister) Digvijay Singh, who has a feudal background.”

Bharti’s other “attribute” that will be highlighted is her “fire-brand nature”. “She has the boldness and the ability to take on the entrenched interests so that the poor can get their share of justice,” a source said.

At the other end of the socio-economic spectrum is Judeo, a Thakur from a family of chieftains who once ruled Jaspur. He is also a champion of “shuddhikaran (religious purification or reconversion)”.

“But the tribals will still vote for him because for them he and his family are like ‘bhagwan (god)’. He is not an impersonator like some Congress leaders,” a source said.

The party’s reading about former maharani Vasundhara is that while she started off “well” with her Parivartan yatra (journey for change), the monsoon proved to be the deliverance for chief minister Ashok Gehlot.

“He may not be an articulate person but the huge gap between the Congress and the BJP which was (working) to Vasundhara’s advantage initially has been narrowed down, thanks to the feeling that Gehlot’s drought management was not bad at all. We have to break this feeling,” a source said.

In Delhi, the BJP hopes that a combination of the “impre- ssive” stint of Madan Lal Khurana and the NDA’s record will give chief minister Sheila Dikshit a fight.

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