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Atal CD ghost pops up in last lap

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By TAPAS CHAKRABORTY in Lucknow
  • Published 27.04.04
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Lucknow, April 27: Emboldened by favourable exit poll projections in the second phase, the Congress today resurrected a compact disc to press allegations that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was a British informer.

At a screening of the CD for the media at the party office here, 82-year-old Leeladhar Vajpayee was shown saying he was jailed because of “Atal’s” deposition to British police.

Freedom fighter Leeladhar, a resident of Gwalior and a neighbour of the Prime Minister in his ancestral town, and another person were jailed for their involvement in a 42-day non-cooperation movement launched in Agra in August 1942.

Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Jagdambika Pal and his deputy Pramod Tiwari said Leeladhar’s statement needed to be aired because Vajpayee had denied the charge at his April 5 rally in Lucknow.

Maine kisi ki mukhbari nahin ki, kisi ki chugli nahin ki (I did not inform on anyone. I did not complain against anyone). I was not an informer for the British,” Vajpayee had said.

BJP state affairs in-charge Kalraj Mishra said the CD was old and irrelevant. “The Congress had tried this trick of getting an accused in the case to level allegations against the Prime Minister earlier, but this had no effect on the voters.”

He was referring to the restricted exhibition of the CD in 1999 after the allegations surfaced the year before.

Recounting “an embarrassing history involving Vajpayee”, Leeladhar — once an active Congress worker and now living off his freedom fighter’s pension — is shown saying that the Prime Minister was among the 15 witnesses gathered by the British police on September 1, 1942, against him and the other person.

“It is following these depositions that I was convicted of defying prohibitory orders, arson and violence. And I was jailed for five years,” he says in the 20-minute CD that has poor audio quality. The verdict was delivered in 1943 by a court in Agra.

According to Leeladhar, he and his associate had gone to Bateswar village and hoisted the Congress flag on a government building called Junglekothi during the 1942 movement.

“Although we were actually involved in flag-hoisting, we were also booked in the case of setting the building on fire,” adds Leeladhar, seen holding what are purportedly the papers of his trial in the case.

Pal said the Congress would transcribe Leeladhar’s statements and distribute the transcript among voters not only in Lucknow, Vajpayee’s constituency, but also in central and western Uttar Pradesh that go to the polls in the remaining phases.

The Congress offensive in Lucknow suggests a turnaround from its listless campaign, marked by the initial inability to field a candidate against Vajpayee and the flip-flop by Ram Jethmalani later.

Jethmalani, the Independent candidate backed by the Congress against Vajpayee, is expected to turn the heat on his rival “to expose (the) truth about him”, party leaders said.

In a move that he plans to sustain through each day of his campaign, Jethmalani has already shot off the first set of 10 questions to Vajpayee — mainly regarding the allegation that government engineer Satyendra Dubey would not have been killed had the PMO been alert.

This is not the first time Jethmalani is firing questions at a Prime Minister — his first target was Rajiv Gandhi at the height of the Bofors scandal.