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Savarkar, `tiranga yatra' not poll issues: BJP

By Neena Vyas

NEW DELHI, SEPT. 16. It is official. Neither the Savarkar controversy nor the "tiranga yatra" of the former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, Uma Bharti, is anywhere near the "top'' election issues the Bharatiya Janata Party will raise in the Maharashtra Assembly election campaign due to begin this month.

As for the potentially emotional issue of a separate Vidarbha to be carved out of Maharashtra, the BJP has calculated that even if the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance ranged against it were to go for this, it will not harm the BJP-Sena alliance as "it never has in the past'' whenever the issue was raised.

"Savarkar will not be an issue in the Maharashtra elections. It is one of the national issues that will figure as other issues such as the `tiranga yatra' during the campaign,'' the party president, Venkaiah Naidu, said today.

He confirmed what several party leaders had been pointing out — Savarkar was hardly known in the rural areas of the State. "His influence is limited to some sections of the urban middle class,'' the party general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, told reporters.

Ms. Bharti's yatra, which will end its journey through Maharashtra tomorrow afternoon, is also not expected to make big waves. What the party wants is to "focus'' on the "non-functioning State Government," the lack of regular supply of electricity, which is felt in every village since all villages are electrified, over 300 suicides by farmers burdened by debt, and malnutrition deaths in areas reeling under drought.

Mr. Mahajan said the Sena-BJP combine wants to take up issues that directly affect the people. Even the Telgi scandal that had loomed large over the horizon for quite a while may be glossed over, except in passing references.

"Kante ki ladai hai" (it is a very close fight), but we have the edge,'' Mr. Mahajan said pointing out that anti-incumbency and the expected rebellion in the Congress-NCP ranks could work against the ruling combine. The BJP is expecting a large number of rebels to be given the ticket by Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, which registered a significant presence in some 40 to 45 Assembly segments during the Lok Sabha elections. The party feels that overall, the loss will be that of the Congress-NCP alliance.

The effort this time has been to emphasise the good old method of campaigning from village-to-village and door-to-door rather than depend on "high-tech'' methods such as SMS and telephone calls to reach the voters.

Admitting that he had learnt from the mistakes made during the Lok Sabha campaign, Mr. Mahajan has hit the roads in the State and has personally covered 70 of a total of 114 seats the BJP will contest.

While a separate Vidarbha will certainly not figure in the Sena-BJP joint manifesto as the Sena is opposed to it, debt relief for all farmers and free electricity for rural pumps will be offered. "Load-shedding has almost become a Marathi word, it is understood throughout the State as people have to do without electricity for eight hours a day,'' Mr. Mahajan said.

Taking a leaf out of the Congress book, the BJP is planning to make unemployment one of its major issues. Corruption and the deteriorating law and order — witness the gang killings in Mumbai — are other issues that will be raked in the run-up to the campaign.

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