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Since 1st March, 1999
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Last lash before curtain falls
Vajpayee seeks smooth return

Ludhiana, May 8: Minutes before the mammoth campaign for Election 2004 ended, Atal Bihari Vajpayee appealed to the people to vote the National Democratic Alliance back to power with a two-thirds majority.

“I began my election campaign from Patiala and am ending it in Ludhiana. I have kept my date with Punjab,” Vajpayee said to thunderous applause. In return, he asked people to elect the NDA in all of Punjab’s 13 seats and hand the alliance an absolute majority in New Delhi.

The NDA was confident of victory at the start of the campaign but appears to have lost ground over the past weeks, with various opinion and exit polls predicting that the alliance might just make the halfway mark or narrowly miss it.

“We want everyone to be assured of their future. That is the India we want to make,” Vajpayee said.

His government had been trying to change the face of the country, the Prime Minister said. “Now no one dies of hunger. Wherever there has been a drought or any other calamity, we have rushed foodgrain from the central stocks. We have evolved a scheme that entitles people to get food for work. This had never happened before. The poverty graph has fallen by 7 per cent,” he claimed.

Standing close to the western frontier, Vajpayee highlighted his peace overtures to Pakistan and promised to open roads that would benefit Punjab, on both sides of the border. “There is peace on the borders. Both countries will stand to benefit if there is trade and travel between our Punjab and that on the other side,” the Prime Minister said, winding up his speech minutes before 5 pm. Half an hour earlier, an aide had slipped him a chit, apparently to remind him about the deadline.

Vajpayee had called the election six months early to capitalise on a strong economy, a good monsoon and improving ties with Pakistan. The NDA kicked off the campaign with the “India Shining” drive, but quietly dropped it weeks later when it appeared to backfire.

Vajpayee, who led the NDA campaign and covered 85 constituencies in 54 days, castigated the Congress and other Opposition parties for opposing the government on all issues. “When I was in Opposition, I never opposed the government in power. We always appreciated good work. What they are doing is not good for democracy.”

He added: “Allegations are made, but no proof is given. The problem with them (the Congress) is that they think only they are fit to rule. We do not believe in dynasties. We believe in working together for the welfare of the people,” he said.

He also lashed out at the Opposition’s single-point agenda of dislodging the BJP. “What morcha are they talking about' Who is their leader'”

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