The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP returns barb for yatra barb

New Delhi, March 3: Pramod Mahajan today took on Sonia Gandhi, Sitaram Yechury, Ram Vilas Paswan and Laloo Prasad Yadav in one breath for their criticism of his latest enterprise: L.K. Advani’s Bharat Uday yatra.

But when the media besieged the BJP general secretary with queries on whether he could guarantee that the yatra would not create communal tension along its route as the Ram rath yatra did in 1990, Mahajan’s answer was: “But why are you trying to crucify someone before he takes out his yatra'”

In a crack at the Congress president’s roadshows, he remarked: “If the Congress is so upset with Advani’s yatra, they can also call Sonia Gandhi’s roadshow Bharat Uday.”

Alleging that the Opposition was running scared of the soon-to-roll yatra, he said: “It has already had a positive effect on the electoral prospects of the BJP and the NDA. That’s why the Opposition is so scared. In any country, before a general election, the Opposition has the right to campaign in its own way. The Congress is leaderless. Sometimes Sonia says she is not interested in running for prime ministership; at times, we hear that if the Congress wins a majority, she will be the Prime Minister.

“At times, Laloo Prasad Yadav declares he will be the Prime Minister, sometimes he shoves the responsibility on Ram Vilas Paswan’s shoulders. The Opposition has no organisation, no leader, no programme.”

Mahajan claimed that this is the first election in which the BJP has set the agenda and “left nothing in the Opposition’s hands”.

Answering the Congress’ charge that the Advani roadshow would violate the Election Commission’s model code of conduct as it used the same Bharat Uday catchline of the NDA government’s ad campaign as its title, he said: “This is a baseless charge. The line ‘Bharat ka uday’ is not the exclusive property of any government or party. Every citizen has the right to say, ‘Bharat Uday’.”

Mahajan ridiculed Yechury and Paswan for alleging that the yatra will foment communalism. “The main objective is to project the development theme. The yatra is meant to knit the nation and not divide it.”

And on Laloo Prasad’s warning that he would “take action” against Advani if his caravan rolled into Bihar, Mahajan’s riposte was: “The last time he took action (in 1990) against Advani’s rath yatra, he lost his government. If he does it again, people will ensure he is booted out in the next Assembly elections.”

Despite Mahajan’s display of bravado, BJP sources said the yatra is meant as much to boost Advani’s own popularity rating — which opinion surveys put at just 2 per cent — as to ensure that the party “somehow” retains its present strength of 182 Lok Sabha seats.

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