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Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 15:49 UK

BJP heeds lesson of over-confidence

LK Advani campaigns in Bangalore
LK Advani, centre, held back-to-back campaigns across Karnataka

India's general elections have reached about the half-way point but the two main national parties, Congress and the BJP, are campaigning hard with neither a clear favourite so far. The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder spent a day on the campaign trail with the BJP's candidate for prime minister, LK Advani.

For India's main opposition party, the BJP, the state of Karnataka has particular resonance.

It is the first southern state to be governed by the party, enabling it to shake off the image that it is a party confined to the north.

Now it is one of a handful of states around the country where the BJP hopes to maintain its winning streak and put it in pole position in the general elections.

Haunting memory

But the BJP, and its prime ministerial candidate LK Advani, are still haunted by the memory of the last general election when it lost despite being the overwhelming favourite.

"We were overconfident," Mr Advani says as he stretches out inside his campaign plane, an eight-seater Hawker 850 business jet. "So this time, I am happy to be considered the underdog."

We are approaching Dharwad, some 400km (248 miles) north of the state capital Bangalore.

It has been a long day. Mr Advani had campaigned in the northern state of Bihar the previous evening before heading south where he had back-to-back campaigns across Karnataka.

BJP supporters in Bangalore
LK Advani addressed the crowd in a pure version of the Hindi language

But Dharwad is one of several constituencies where the BJP is locked in a tight battle with Congress, and local party organisers are keen to see their star campaigner.

At the tiny Hubli airport, they greet Mr Advani enthusiastically, covering him with marigold garlands before we set off in a convoy of SUVs.

It has rained and the fresh breeze is a welcome respite from the intense summer heat. But it poses a challenge for the politicians. The rally venue is soaked and there are fears that not many will turn up.

So we stop at a local hotel where a grand tea is laid out and the local BJP candidate and his supporters get into a huddle to discuss their options.

But before they can come up with a plan, Mr Advani emerges from the hotel and heads off to his campaign vehicle.

Sirens wailing

Plates of sandwiches are hastily pushed aside and coffee cups dropped as everyone scrambles out.

"Quick, there's no time to lose or you'll get left behind," shouts a member of his security detail as my cameraman and I are bundled into one of the cars.

We head off at top speed, sirens wailing as policemen hold up traffic to let us through.

Dark clouds have gathered over India my friends
LK Advani
BJP prime ministerial candidate

At the rally venue - a large school ground - some 8,000 people have gathered. As Mr Advani and his retinue climb the dais, the throng lets out cheers and whistles of approval.

The local politician who had been entertaining them is booed off stage. With the main act here, why bother with the sideshow?

Twenty minutes later, Mr Advani steps up to speak - in Hindi, a language that is not native to people here but understood nevertheless.

They listen to him enthusiastically, at least initially.

But the BJP leader speaks a pure version of the language that is a bit too sophisticated for his audience.

It doesn't help that his theme tonight is of how billions of Indian rupees are being held in illegal offshore accounts in Swiss banks.

Sensing their distance, he changes tack.

Map locator

"Dark clouds have gathered over India my friends," he says gesticulating at the overcast sky.

"Help me push them away," he says, as the crowd roars its approval.

Campaigning is sometimes best left simple.

An hour later, we stop for a quick meal at Hubli airport before heading back to Delhi.

Across India both the BJP and Congress are being challenged by smaller, regional parties - who could well hold the key to power.

"We could have a situation where we have a minority, coalition government but it will certainly not last its term," Mr Advani tells me on the plane.

He says India needs to find a way to stop having so many expensive elections.

"When I was a cabinet minister, every now and then an important decision would be held up because of an upcoming state election. Good governance would take a back seat to politics," he says.

His aides hand him the latest issues of weekly magazines - another scans for news on his wireless hand-held device.

A quick glance and then Mr Advani is back to reading - 1,000 Years 1,000 People, a compilation of people who shaped the last millennium.

Appropriate reading perhaps for someone who hopes to lead the world's largest democracy.



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