The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Advani to test ground for early polls

New Delhi, March 11: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani is expected to go into a huddle tomorrow with BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu and his five general secretaries — Pramod Mahajan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Rajnath Singh among them — to “assess” whether the 2004 parliamentary elections should be brought forward.

“Bringing forward” would mean holding the elections in February-March next year instead of October, when the polls are scheduled, sources said.

Asked for the reason, since the government would have seven more months to go if it stuck to the legislative calendar, a source said: “In reality, this government will complete five years on March 19. (The BJP had ruled for 13 months before coming to power in mid-term elections in 1999.) This is a long time and before the anti-incumbency sentiment catches up, there is a view that the elections should be brought forward.”

This “view” was reportedly opposed by Lok Sabha MPs, who want the government to be allowed to complete its term and were resentful that the votaries of an early poll were Rajya Sabha MPs who did not have to “face the electorate”.

The other consideration for a mid-term election was the Uttar Pradesh alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The argument was that the roller-coaster relationship might not survive another year and a half. Therefore, before the break came, elections should be fought jointly. The BJP views the BSP as its only hope in Uttar Pradesh, where its base has been eroding over the past three years.

A final view on advancing the polls would be taken after the November Assembly elections.

Tomorrow’s meeting is also expected to discuss strategies for Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, all bound for polls by the year-end.

The meeting would discuss the fate of rural development minister Shanta Kumar, singled out as the fall guy by the BJP for the Himachal debacle.

Naidu had issued a show-cause notice to Kumar last week, asking why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for his “intemperate” statements against the former Dhumal government. He met the BJP chief to give his point of view, but sources said Naidu was not “convinced” and was in a “mood to recommend strong punitive action” against him.

Both Advani and Naidu wanted to drop Kumar from the Cabinet as a “warning” to other “errant” factional leaders but Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee felt he should be allowed to continue after a “severe rebuke”.

A mid-session Cabinet shuffle — on which speculation has started — will depend largely on Kumar’s fate. Vajpayee, sources said, wanted to bring in Mamata Banerjee and Farooq Abdullah but the party was not keen.

Sources did not rule out the possibility of a quid pro quo being worked out in which Kumar could be eased out and Mamata brought in.

The meeting will also chalk out the agenda for the BJP’s next national executive, which will be held in Indore on April 4 and 5.

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