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Cong toys with early poll ploy
- Party mulls advancing elections in Deccan states

New Delhi, July 11: The Congress may spring a surprise on its opponents in Maharashtra and Karnataka by advancing by several months the polls in the two states due next year.

Both states last went to the polls simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections in September-October 1999.

Even before the Shimla brainstorming last week, the Congress leadership was understood to have consulted party leaders from both states on advancing the Assembly polls.

The idea first came up when the BJP talked of holding the general elections in March-April 2004 instead of October, when the Centre would complete its five-year term.

The Congress, though, was under no compulsion to follow suit. But a section of Congress leaders in Maharashtra, sources said, was spearheading a campaign to convince the high command that early polls would work to the party’s advantage by skirting anti-incumbency sentiment.

The early-polls lobby is headed by party working committee member Vilasrao Deshmukh. He is apparently trying to reclaim his position, which he had yielded to Sushil Kumar Shinde by stepping down as chief minister in the Dalit leader’s favour.

The alert pro-Shinde lobby in the state Congress, however, has conveyed to the leadership that Assembly polls need not be advanced for the reason offered by the proponents.

Yet, almost all sections of the state Congress reportedly agree that Assembly polls should be advanced if the general elections are brought forward, sources said.

As a result, the party leadership has alerted its state counterpart to be ready for early Assembly polls. A final decision will, of course, be made after taking partner, the Nationalist Congress Party, into confidence.

A few days ahead of the Shimla meet, Karnataka chief minister S.M. Krishna had flown to Delhi on an unpublicised mission.

It is widely believed in party circles that the high command had summoned him for discussions on advancing the polls in his state.

Sources said all top Karnataka unit leaders were in favour of state polls along with the general elections. “If the Lok Sabha polls are advanced, it is to our advantage to hold the Assembly polls simultaneously. We are agreed on this,” a senior state leader said.

Some among the Karnataka leadership, however, want the Assembly polls brought forward even if the general elections are held as scheduled next October.

Their reason is the disarray of the Opposition, both of the various Janata Dal factions and the BJP. These leaders believe the Opposition would get time to regroup if the Congress waited until the scheduled time for polls.

“It would be to our advantage if we are able to spring a surprise on them,” a Congress leader said. Whatever the opinions, early Assembly polls are under consideration by the party.

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