Vajpayee, Sonia go the distance wooing voters

Himalayan News Service

New Delhi, May 7:

They would have scaled the largest mountain ranges, circumnavigated the earth at least once and completed trailing the largest rail network in the world. Compulsive adventure-seekers? World-record chasers?

They are Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who have covered tens of thousands of kilometres to campaign for their parties. Vajpayee has traversed close to 66,000 km across India since January to pitch for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in the general elections that end on Monday. Gandhi has ambulated nearly 60,000 km of the country since December. Vajpayee has travelled about the same length as mid-oceanic ridges that are estimated by scientists to be the largest mountain range on earth.

The soon-to-be-80 prime minister has also covered a distance equivalent to the spread of the largest rail network in the world under a single management - Indian Railways. Sonia is close to it, although she has already covered, according to one account, the length of the road network of a country like Thailand. By air and by road, both Vajpayee and Sonia have travelled more than the earth’s circumference, approximately 40,000 km — no mean an achievement in the punishing terrains of India, with inclement weather making travel worse. The two leaders have visited most of India’s 28 states in their bid to mobilise support for the general election ending on Monday. Arguably, both have been able to cover large distances by air, but their aides point out that even air travel can be taxing for long stretches.

The reason for all this itinerancy is not difficult to understand. Despite his years, Vajpayee is the star vote getter for BJP, one of India’s best-organised parties. Sonia Gandhi, despite the controversy over her Italian origin, is the most popular leader for the Congress, India’s oldest party.