The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal tells voters to dump surveys

Lucknow, April 27: Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared to gird up for future uncertainties today when he urged his constituency of Lucknow to vote disregarding exit poll results.

“You have to make up your mind. Don’t be distracted by the predictions. Development agenda always runs a government and if I have done anything, I will win,” he told a mohalla gathering at Bachchi Talab, commonly called BT, on the city’s outskirts.

The cloud of uncertainty peeped through when he said: “I am a fighter. I am born to face troubles. If I cannot change the aberrations in society, if I cannot change what I am destined to, what is the meaning of remaining alive.”

Vajpayee waxed nostalgic about his association with the city, wanting to be remembered by it and mentioning an ambitious project now underway for its development. Apologising for not visiting Lucknow enough, he said: “But after retirement, I will like to settle down in a place like this.”

The crowd response, however, was lukewarm. About 10,000 people gathered at BT — and the 5,000 later at Kapurthala area in the city — were stingy with applause.

The worry is not victory but a low turnout, senior leaders said here, as Lucknow has had a low voting percentage in the past. Add the gruelling summer and the killer sari stampede, the apathy appears to have been compounded.

Vajpayee, however, kept the focus on his government’s performance and its development agenda. “In an era of coalition government, poll prediction is not an easy task. I believe good work will be followed by good results in polls.”

“We have successfully worked for the last six years,” he said, referring to the work he had put in to cobble a disparate alliance and run it.

He listed the Centre’s achievements in foreign relations and infrastructure development. “A relative peace has settled on the border and I can assure you the peace process will consolidate.”

He talked of his government’s ambitious plan to link rivers without which he said the country would be unable to overcome an impending water crisis. India’s changing image among the international community, high foreign exchange reserve and increasing exports also found mention.

Vajpayee’s poll managers, however, were concerned about voter apathy. They have now advised him to address small gatherings in residential colonies instead of large rallies. Vajpayee’s first effort was to make personal calls on voters’ cellphones. On May 1, he would send them personally signed letters urging them to vote, said Prabhat Jha, the Prime Minister’s local media coordinator.

Vajpayee would spend tomorrow morning with party workers before flying across the rest of Uttar Pradesh for some hectic campaigning. He would also meet senior leaders Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj who are camping here to monitor his campaign.

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