The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ram rolls up sleeves to fight Atal

Lucknow, April 7: The BJP may swear by Ram but mentioning his name in this high-profile Lok Sabha constituency would amount to canvassing for Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s opponent.

Leading Supreme Court advocate and former Union minister Ram Jethmalani has decided at long last to enter the election fray as an Independent. He will be supported by the Congress, the Left and some regional outfits.

Jethmalani reached here this morning and is expected to file his nomination in a few days. On arrival, he met some old acquaintances and a number of minority leaders, who reportedly gave him “the strength to field myself from here”.

The former Union minister then faced the media to explain why he was taking on the Prime Minister and the difficulties he faced in getting the Opposition parties to support him jointly.

Jethmalani called Vajpayee “my friend”, but said even though the Prime Minister had won four times from Lucknow, he had done little for the city, once regarded as a beautiful town. He said the residents still have to drink dirty water and use dusty roads.

The former minister said Vajpayee has been misleading the nation with wrong figures and added that minorities have been worst affected during his rule which has seen unemployment shoot up. He said those involved in the post-Godhra carnage, which he compared to the 1947 riots, had been made heroes.

Jethmalani said he would tell the people about the lies being spread in the name of development. “And, of course, I have come to serve the people of Lucknow city,” he said.

The Prime Minister faces a multi-cornered test, with the Samajwadi Party fielding Madhu Gupta, chief of its women’s wing, and the Bahujan Samaj Party fielding Nasir Ali Siddique.

The lawyer has little to bank on other than Congress support since the other friendly parties — the CPI, CPM, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Lok Janshakti Party — have little presence here. “Jethmalani should know in clear terms what this support means. Does it mean that the Congress’ party machinery will work for him' If it works, Jethmalani would be lucky,” a former Congress MP said.

The former minister said India needs a change in government. “Democracy is a swimming pool which turns into a gutter if its water is not changed periodically. Indian democracy has reached that stage. I have come here to start an initiative to make Indian democracy more transparent,” he said.

Jethmalani said he had been trying to evolve a consensus on a joint Opposition candidate to take on Vajpayee. “I had almost given up hope. Finally, I was inspired by the hope that minority leaders have given me along with the political parties,” he added.

Local politicians say Jethmalani would at least try to put up a fight against Vajpayee.

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