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Tuesday, March 3, 1998 Published at 17:01 GMT

Special Report

Atal Bihari Vajpayee: India's new prime minister
image: [ Plotting strategy: A B Vajpayee (right) with party president L K Advani ]
Plotting strategy: A B Vajpayee (right) with party president L K Advani

BBC Correspondent George Arney followed Atal Behari Vajpayee on the recent election campaign. He reports from Delhi on the BJP leader who is now India's new prime minister:

Atal Bihari Vajpayee is a man of simple tastes. But elections always make the life of a politician more complicated. I recently caught up with him in the city of Lucknow as he was on his way to cast his own vote. Mr Vajpayee gets into his jeep and drives off surrounded by security men to the voting station - preceded by a jeep, bursting at the seams with security men.

It is hard to see the BJP leader without a prior appointment these days, but outside the rather non-descript apartment block he stays in when he is in his Lucknow constituency, I did bump into a couple of his relatives:
A range of opinions on the BJP candidate for prime minister
"It's a very ordinary apartment, and he wants to live like a common man, he's very simple, he lives like a saint, he's never angry with anybody."

[ image: On the campaign trail]
On the campaign trail
Simple and sincere, almost a saint. That is the image he projects. The fact is that few politicians have a bad word to say about Mr Vajpayee personally. According to the BJP media advisor, even his political enemies warmed towards him during the brief period after the last election when he was prime minister.

"The one argument that they were giving all through was that Atal is good, but he's in the wrong party. Why they were saying that Atal is good? Because his relations with all these political leaders were on friendship level ... as the individual Atal is concerned, all the leaders were saying that Atal is good."

But how good is good? For all his liberal sensibilities Mr Vajpayee has since his youth been a member of the hardline Hindu Nationalist organisation, the RSS, which is the ideological parent organisation of the BJP. Sociologist Nadeen Hasnan believes that though he is a moderate, that is a relative term:

"I definitely see Mr Vajpayee as something different from the usual hardcore RSS men. But at the same time I'm not prepared to believe that Mr Vajpayee is totally free of those communal ties or he stands for a really secular, modern India where all the religious minorities would feel secure and safe."

[ image: BJP's hardline policies led to clashes in the past]
BJP's hardline policies led to clashes in the past
Whatever his own outlook though, the question is whether Mr Vajpayee is just the moderate mask of the BJP - that is exactly how one senior party colleague described him during this campaign. But his old associate Ramprakash Gupta - himself and RSS man - insists that is all just nonsense.

"He is our leader and he represents BJP in full BJP ideology, in full reality and truth. Whatever he says that is BJP."

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