The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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National politics passes by, almost

Calcutta, May 3: To the country’s two biggest leaders, Bengal is only of peripheral interest.

The principal protagonists of elections 2004, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, will be here tomorrow amid complaints of being ignored in the campaign from Lok Sabha aspirants of their respective parties.

Vajpayee will spend about five hours in Calcutta and campaign only for Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, a partner in the ruling coalition at the Centre.

The Prime Minister is aware of the role she may be called upon to play if it comes to the crunch in the number game.

Sonia, too, knows the significance of the Left, which is backing her party as an alternative to the BJP-led alliance. She is campaigning only in north Bengal, where the Congress is still a force in some pockets.

The Prime Minister will address a rally at Deshapriya Park in Mamata’s Calcutta South constituency. He will come from Gwalior at 3.30 in the afternoon and head for Raj Bhavan, where leaders of several parties and other dignitaries will get a 45-minute hearing.

The BJP’s star campaigner will leave for the airport at 7.45 pm, after the Trinamul rally.

The BJP has two union ministers from Bengal — Tapan Sikdar and Satyabrata Mookerjee — who are contesting from Dum Dum and Krishnagar, but Vajpayee won’t be there for them tomorrow.

One of the campaign managers for a BJP candidate from a seat on the fringes of the city said: “Vajpayee’s presence could have made a big difference”.

Sikdar’s camp had worked overtime to get Vajpayee to spare a few minutes and address a rally in his support.

The rally in the vicinity of the airport, either immediately after the Prime Minister’s arrival or before his departure, would have helped Sikdar retain the Dum Dum seat, a party source said.

Jyoti Basu is leading the campaign for Sikdar’s CPM rival Amitava Nandi. Basu was earlier quoted as saying he wants to wrest the seat first won by the BJP in 1998.

BJP sources said growing squabbles within the party prompted the Prime Minister to avoid campaigning for the BJP nominees. State party president Tathagata Roy apparently told Vajpayee that if he campaigned for Sikdar, Mookerjee would be peeved.

Sonia will address a meeting at Alipurduar, where Congress insiders feel the Left Front is under pressure following unrest in the tea industry. Apart from that, she will only campaign for central leaders, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Pranab Mukherjee.

Congress Working Committee member and state party chief, Mukherjee is contesting from Jangipur. Sonia will also speak at Samsi, under Das Munshi’s Raiganj constituency.

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