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At a public meeting three days before Bellary swings one way or the other, Vajpayee, flanked by Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, appealed to the people to put the Congress behind and embrace the BJP.
??We are not against Sonia Gandhi personally, but defeating her is a need of national security,?? the Prime Minister said.
A seasoned Congress-baiter, Naidu, too, pummelled Sonia in an effort to wean away the 4,000-strong Telugu population in Bellary. Roping in Naidu was a calculated strategy on the BJP?s part to mop up crucial Telugu votes in the constituency.
The 30,000-odd crowd went into raptures as the helicopter carrying the trio ? Sushma Swaraj was also present ? circled the rally ground and landed.
With Bellary precariously balanced, the BJP played what it hopes will be its trump card ?- the persona of Vajpayee.
The crowd whistled, waved saffron flags and jostled with the police to inch closer to the podium. Pleased with the reception, Sushma thundered in chaste Kannada, Naidu in Telugu and Vajpayee stuck to Hindi, peppering his speech with a sentence in Kannada at the beginning and at the end. But the crowd wanted more in their own languages and as it got restive, Vajpayee paused for simultaneous translations in Kannada.
If the people in Bellary had forgotten why they had been pitchforked into a war arena, Vajpayee reminded them of the final, turbulent days of his 13-month government. ??I want the people of Bellary to ask the Congress why it pulled down my government without working out an alternative,?? he said.
In a departure from his previous meetings, the Prime Minister?s speech was not an obsessive attack on Sonia and her foreign origin. Instead, he directed his fire at the Congress. The party, he thundered, had done nothing for Bellary, had ignored development and social justice.
The Kargil war resonated in his speech. ??If we congratulate our soldiers for their bravery, the Congress thinks we are extracting political mileage. If the Congress wishes, it, too, can pay its respects to the martyrs,?? Vajpayee said. As the crowd roared, he continued: ??I want to assure the people that if intruders enter our territory again, we will throw them out or put them in the jaws of death.??
At another rally in Bangalore later in the evening, he continued with his Congress-bashing, accusing it of adopting a ??negative attitude?? when the entire country was celebrating the victory over Pakistan.
Answering Sonia?s charge that the conflict was the result of the government?s ineptitude, Vajpayee sought to turn the tables on the Congress, saying: ??Pakistan was emboldened to attack India after our government was brought down by those who cannot survive without power.??
Though he did not pick on Sonia?s foreign origin in Bangalore, he did skim the issue towards the end of his speech in Bellary. ??It was the Congress which first raised this question. Three of its important leaders said persons of foreign origin should be barred from the office of Prime Minister,?? he said. ??We did not raise the issue.??
The Prime Minister?s rally marked the climax of the BJP campaign which centres around the swadeshi vs videshi slogan. The party does not have anything major lined up during the next two days, but that is when the Congress is going to push through aggressively with Sonia and Priyanka at the forefront. ??Wait and see what happens in the next two days,?? said a Congress leader.
Mother and daughter begin their campaign tomorrow with a meeting in Bellary and will leave the final day for touring the vast rural heart of the constituency.
For the next two days, the Congress is going to take on the BJP where it has fallen short of intensive campaigning. It will ridicule the party for raising the issue of Sonia?s foreign origin, harp on the legacy of the Nehru dynasty.
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The Pakistan DGMO has been sounding the Indian army on taking back the bodies. This amounts to a veiled acknowledgement that its regulars were involved in Kargil. A senior army officer here said it is also a signal that the families of the dead soldiers are pressuring the military top brass to take up the matter with India and retrieve the corpses.
During his weekly Tuesday talks with the Pakistan DGMO, Lt Gen. Tauqir Zia, India?s Lt Gen. N.C. Vij is believed to have conveyed the army?s inability to return the bodies.
The subject came up for discussion after Lt Gen. Zia ??profusely?? thanked the army for exhuming and returning the bodies of five Pakistani soldiers who were killed at Point 5770, south of Siachen, around the end of June when fighting was at its fiercest.
The bodies, including that of Capt. Taimur Malik, were handed over to Pakistani army officers at Post 43, somewhere in the Kargil sector, on the evening of August 25. The corpses were returned following a request from the Pakistani army top brass. Apparently, Capt. Malik?s grandparents, who are non-resident Pakistanis living in England, had put in a request for the return of the officer?s body through the Indian defence attach? in London.
The officer intimated army chief Gen. V.P. Malik who, as part of a ??goodwill gesture??, asked his men to do the needful.
However, when Lt Gen. Zia yesterday asked for bodies of all soldiers, the Indian DGMO replied it was impossible because of the ??impracticality of the situation??. But Lt Gen. Vij did not spell out the difficulties.
Senior army officers said Lt Gen. Vij could have been referring to the onset of winter which would make it difficult for Indian troops to cut through the layers of snow and exhume the bodies.
The army has records to show that during the nearly two-month conflict, 696 Pakistani soldiers, including 41 officers, were killed.
Troops in Kargil recovered bodies of 249 Pakistani regulars, most of who belonged to the Northern Light Infantry. Of these, 244 were buried according to Islamic custom with military honours.
But several dead Pakistani soldiers were hastily and improperly buried by the withdrawing intruders in July. Pakistan had then refused to accept its dead soldiers fearing it would blow its defence on non-involvement in Kargil.
Pakistan took back the bodies of three soldiers, including two officers, on July 17 after several denials. The bodies were returned through the Red Cross. Three other bodies were handed over to the Pakistani army in late May.
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The party today charged information and broadcasting minister Pramod Mahajan with ?pressuring? the media to change the statement he made in Amravati, allegedly equating Sonia Gandhi with Monica Lewinsky.
?The only way to do it was to persuade the reporter (of The Hindustan Times) to support him. Never before in the history of free India have we had a minister pressuring the media to change its statement,? AICC spokesman Kapil Sibal said.
He also disowned the alleged personal remarks made by AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad against Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee.
Accusing Mahajan of ?destroying? the freedom of the press, Sibal said the government was using ?unfair means? to extract electoral advantage. He said that an information and broadcasting ministry official, Ajay Singh, had got hold of the Congress? campaign material through unfair means.
?A certain OSD in the information and broadcasting ministry is in charge of the Unconventional Actions Department,? Sibal alleged.
Senior party leaders wondered at the rationale behind Vajpayee?s move to address a rally in Bellary, from where Sonia is contesting. They said this was another departure from the convention which refrained former prime ministers from holding meetings in the constituencies of their main rivals.
?All parliamentary norms have taken a nosedive in the last two years. This is also a departure, though a minor one, compared to the ugly and personalised campaign against top leaders,? a senior Congress Working Committee member said.
Hawks in the Congress want Sonia to give them a ?green signal? to target Vajpayee, George Fernandes and Mahajan, but the AICC chief has asked them to maintain restraint.
Senior Congressmen, including Manmohan Singh, A.K. Antony and N.D. Tiwari, have told Sonia that the party will gain public sympathy if it does not hit back. But younger leaders feel that if the BJP and its allies stoop low, the Congress should ?expose? them.
Arjun Singh, Sibal, Kamal Nath, Vishwajit Prithvijit Singh and others want the Congress leadership to step up attack on the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance.
Sibal said Mahajan had tried to make amends by saying that he never equated Sonia and Lewinsky. ?But he did not deny having made that remark,? he said.
He said Mahajan was not fit to be in any position, leave alone a ministerial one. He added that the Indian Express reporter who covered Mahajan?s rallies corroborated The Hindustan Times story.
Sibal also accused the government of ?misusing? Doordarshan. ?The unprecedented hurry with which the 24-hour Doordarshan news channel was launched, despite reservations from the Prasar Bharati Board, is eloquent testimony to Mahajan?s disregard for fair play,? he said.
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The women are dressed like men to show that everything has gone ?ulta pulta (topsy turvy)?. They march towards the village temple, singing: ?Kire makore tarse marse, hunshahu tarse marse (The insects are despairing and dying, we are all despairing and dying)?. They cake the image of Hanuman in mud and tell him: ?Give us rain and we will rinse you clean. Otherwise, stay like this. Wait for the rains like us. Suffer.?
Driven to the edge of despair, the tribals of Baria, Ratanmal and other adjoining villages in Dahod parliamentary constituency, are venting their anger on the gods. In one village, they dunk an idol of Shiva in water and leave him to drown. ?Drown. Suffocate. Give us rain and you will be released,? they tell him.
When asked if he is angry with seven-time MP Somjibhai Damor, Baria village elder Chandubhai says: ?Politicians are mere mortals. If the gods can?t do anything about it, what can they??
Finding no other way out of their misery, the cornered Bhils ? who comprise 70 per cent of the population in Dahod ? are resorting to looting. The number of robberies have gone up over the last few months. Four days back, a train was robbed. A week ago, some travellers were stopped and their belongings snatched.
But many of the non-tribal population of Dahod are not furious with the Bhils for what they are doing. Dinesh Rathore, a local businessman, says: ?Last year, we had 40 mm of rain. This time, there has been only 5 mm. What else do you expect the tribals to do? They depend on maize cultivation, which needs a certain amount of water to survive. If the maize dies, they die.?
Ramesh Kewadia, owner of one of Dahod?s biggest hotels, Hotel Rama, says: ?Every time the monsoon fails, there is a spurt of crime. You can?t help it.?
The tribal villages are flanked by Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Bhils put up road blocks in the border areas , stop vehicles, rob passengers and melt into one of the two states. It is not just robbery. Sometimes there are murders. Stricken by panic, buses travel in convoys of eight or ten at night. Private cars are rarely seen on the road after 10 pm. ?Don?t travel at night. They will take away your camera. This year, they are really desperate,? Kewadia warns.
Politicians have no answer to the problems. Local MP Somjibhai Damor said water sources have dried up. ?The attitude of the tribals make it difficult to transport water,? he said. He admitted that there was nothing he could do. ?We can?t get water from America, can we??
The tribals know that politicians? will not help. So they leave it to the gods. To remain caked in mud or be released by cooling showers.
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Rainfall: 30.4 mm