Sunday, March 1, 2009

Advani launches Karnataka poll battle

Bangalore: Political activity has picked up in Karnataka ahead of the Lok Sabha polls with Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) senior leader L.K. Advani Saturday addressing two rallies and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad beginning a two-day visit to select party candidates for the elections.

Charging the United Progressive Alliance government for being "soft on terror", Advani said: "There should be zero tolerance against terrorism."

The BJP's prime ministerial candidate first spoke at a well-attended rally of students and youth in Bangalore and in the evening addressed a 'Vijay Sankalp Yatra' (Victory Resolution rally) in Bidar, around 750 km from Bangalore.

Azad, a former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister who has been given charge of party affairs in Karnataka, arrived for talks with state leaders to finalise the names of candidates.

He also discussed the possibility of an understanding or alliance with the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) headed by former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda.

The Congress and the JD-S have both been talking about the need for 'secular' forces to come together in Karnataka to stop the BJP that rules the state from putting up a good show in the polls, expected in April-May.

Speaking at an anti-terrorism rally, Advani said: "The Al Qaeda has not been able to carry out any terror attack in the United States and Israel post-9/11 strikes as the governments of both the countries adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism."

"The UPA government should take a firm stand against terrorism, it should show that India will not tolerate terrorism," he said.

Later talking to reporters, Advani condemned the Jan 24 attack on a group of young women by Sri Rama Sene activists in the coastal city of Mangalore, about 350 km from here, describing it as "barbaric".

"Attacking women is against Indian culture," he said.

The BJP, which won 18 of Karnataka's 28 seats in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, is gung-ho about taking the tally higher this time as the party is in power - for the first time in Karnataka.

It won 110 of the 224 seats in the assembly polls held in May last year and began ruling the state with the help of six independent legislators. It secured majority on its own with 116 seats by wooing Congress and JD-S legislators, who resigned from the assembly to join the BJP and won in subsequent by-polls.

The Bangalore rally was held amid protests by students and the youth wings of Congress, JD-S and the Communist Party of India-Marxist, who alleged the government was forcing college students to attend the anti-terror campaign.

The BJP government launched the campaign in all colleges of the state on Jan 12, coinciding with the birthday of Swami Vivekananda.

Traffic on busy roads leading to the rally venue, Palace Grounds, about 5 km from the city centre, was chaotic as the programme was scheduled for noon.

In the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress managed just eight seats. The JD-S won two seats

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