With Vajpayee retiring, others see hope in Lucknow seat

May 23rd, 2008 - 12:47 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Bahujan Samaj Party
By Rakesh Mohan Chaturvedi
Lucknow, May 23 (IANS) With former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee unlikely to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow, others see a new opportunity to win from this prestigious constituency. Vajpayee’s failing health and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) announcement in December that L.K. Advani would be its prime ministerial candidate have been widely read as Vajpayee’s retirement from active politics.

This has left the field open to other hopefuls, none of whom had any hope of winning the seat as long as Vajpayee was in the contest in the Uttar Pradesh capital. The BJP itself will have to look for candidates.

“I cannot comment on the issue as it cannot be discussed publicly. We follow a democratic system in selecting candidates. We will finalise the list of candidates soon,” Ramapati Ram Tripathi, president of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the BJP, told IANS.

The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has announced the name of former Lucknow mayor Akhilesh Das as its candidate for the seat. Das resigned from the Congress and the Rajya Sabha early this month and joined the BSP.

Das has nurtured the constituency for many years and hopes to reap the benefits this time. Coupled with the social engineering formula of the BSP - bringing together the upper castes and Dalits - his past contribution is expected to help him sail through, feel his supporters.

The BSP has never done well in Lucknow, finishing third and reaping only 5-6 percent of the votes. Moreover, this being a predominantly urban constituency, it is not a BSP stronghold.

It is the Samajwadi Party and the Congress that have put up a semblance of contest against Vajpayee, who won from Lucknow for the first time in 1991 and then again in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004.

“In Vajpayee’s absence, any good candidate from one of the big parties can win from Lucknow,” said Ravi Singh, a leader who follows politics closely.

It is this logic that seems to be bringing film actor-turned- politician Raj Babbar back to this constituency. Raj Babbar fought on the Samajwadi Party ticket in 1996 but lost to Vajpayee.

Vajpayee got 52.24 percent of the votes then. Raj Babbar, knowing well that he won’t win against such a formidable opponent, had sought Vajpayee’s blessings before filing his nomination.

Raj Babbar has now fallen out with the Samajwadi Party. The Congress is set to nominate him, political sources say

“A survey to finalise the candidate is on and the matter will be discussed in the coordination committee meeting likely to be held in June,” Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the Uttar Pradesh Congress head, told IANS.

Agra, Raj Babbar’s present Lok Sabha constituency, has now been reserved for Dalits, leaving him with the option of either contesting from neighbouring Fatehpur Sikri or returning to Lucknow.

“It is true that when Raj Babbar holds any public programme in Agra, we lend him support. I have heard that he may join the Congress,” Joshi said.

Vajpayee’s performance in 1998 was the best till date. He got 57.82 percent of the votes to defeat film director and Samajwadi Party nominee Muzaffar Ali of “Umrao Jaan” fame.

A year later, Vajpayee defeated Congress challenger Karan Singh of the erstwhile Kashmir royal family.

In 2004, Vajpayee won against Madhu Gupta of the Samajwadi Party. Although lawyer Ram Jethmalani contested as an independent, he enjoyed the tacit support of the Congress, which did not put up any candidate.

Congress sources say that party president Sonia Gandhi is keen on fielding a strong candidate from Lucknow - a sure sign that the seat will witness a keen contest even minus Vajpayee.

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