NATIONAL

Congress campaign receives a boost in eastern U.P.

LUCKNOW, APRIL 24. The Congress camp here feels satisfied over the boost that its campaign received over the past couple of days in eastern Uttar Pradesh where campaigning came to a close in 32 constituencies this afternoon.

The party, which had initially focussed on the Amethi-Rae Bareli region alone, considered to be a bastion of the Nehru-Gandhi family, decided to reach out to other constituencies in the last phase of campaigning. The party president, Sonia Gandhi, was among those involved in electioneering till the end. On the last day of the campaign, she addressed three election meetings, the last one being at Faizabad in support of her party candidate, Nirmal Khatri.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi, who entered the election arena from Amethi, went on a road show during the past two days mingling with crowds in select constituencies where the party candidates were considered to have good prospects.

To counter the Congress campaign, the Bharatiya Janata Party utilised the services of the other Gandhi, Varun, son of the party candidate from Pilibhit, Maneka Gandhi, to seek support for the party candidates. Also campaigning on the last day were the Union Human Resource Development Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, the Union Agriculture Minister, Rajnath Singh, the BJP general secretary, Pramod Mahajan, the Union Health and Family Welfare and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, and the television actor, Mukesh Khanna.

The Chief Minister, Mulayam Singh Yadav, finished his party's campaign by addressing eight election meetings in various constituencies while his party general secretary, Amar Singh, and the Uttar Pradesh Minister, Shiv Pal Singh, supplemented his efforts by touring other parts of the region.

Massive security arrangements have been made in the constituencies of Rae Bareli and Pratapgarh, considered to be the most sensitive. While in Rae Bareli, Ms. Gandhi herself is seeking election, in Pratapgarh her party candidate is Ratna Singh. The Congress apprehends that the rival Samajwadi Party candidates might vitiate the election process by means of violence in the two constituencies.

Pratapgarh is the home district of the independent MLA, Raghuraj Pratap Singh, presently detained under POTA. The SP nominee from the constituency is Akshay Pratap Singh, relative of Raghuraj Pratap Singh, who was alleged to be masterminding the campaign of the SP nominee from jail.

In Rae Bareli, the former Congress legislator, Akhilesh Singh, is considered a threat to fair elections. Mr. Akhilesh Singh has been seeking support for his brother, Mr. Ashok Singh, contesting the election on the SP ticket. He has a non-bailable arrest warrant issued against him and is stated to have gone underground. But even from his hideout he is alleged to be a threat to free polling.

Offering a pleasant relief from the oppressive heat to both the campaigners and the voters, the mercury has come down sharply in the region following a dust storm and drizzles on Thursday last.

The weather is likely to show a comparative improvement in the percentage of polling both in rural and urban areas.

In all, 423 candidates have been seeking elections from eastern Uttar Pradesh, notable among them being the former Prime Minister, Chandra Shekhar (Ballia), the Bahujan Samajwadi Party leader, Mayawati (Akbarpur), Union Minister Swami Chinmayanand (Jaunpur), the U.P. Assembly Speaker, Kesrinath Tripathi (Machhlishahr), and the former Union Ministers, Beni Prasad Verma and Arif Mohammed Khan (both Kaiserganj) besides Mr. Rahul Gandhi and Ms. Gandhi.

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