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BJP reaches for poll pulse

New Delhi, Aug. 7: The BJP is likely to sound its Lok Sabha MPs and allies before deciding whether to bring forward the parliamentary elections to either November or February 2004.

Party sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to kickstart the process by consulting his deputy L.K. Advani and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu. A meeting of the NDA next week which, the sources said, would “definitely” take up the issue could follow this interaction.

The BJP will organise a camp for its MPs in Jaipur on August 23 and 24. The camp, to be attended by both Vajpayee and Advani, is expected to be the clincher.

The advancement of the polls has become a major talking point among BJP and NDA MPs ever since Advani came out with his proposal for “synchronised” polls. While the official reaction was uniform — “we are prepared to face them anytime” — in private, most were apprehensive about what the future held.

Madan Prasad Jaiswal, who represents Bettiah in north Bihar, was among those who took a balanced view. “The arguments which are being put out through informal channels sound convincing, by and large. But more than economics, it is the political aspects which make most sense to me,” he said.

“The Congress is in disarray as far as alliances go. They have not even been able to arrive at a working arrangement with the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. We have all our alliances intact. So political wisdom says it is better to strike before the opponent gets its act together.”

The BJP has taken note of the recent Congress-Samajwadi spat — provoked by Congress leader Salman Khurshid’s description of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party as an “ant” — with glee and compared it with the “adroitness” with which it has managed a “far more difficult and temperamental” ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party.

Not just Uttar Pradesh, BJP sources said that while they would have “virtually no” problems in making “compatible” multilateral alliances, they were not sure how the Congress would handle them. It was pointed out that while the BJP was reconciled to the BSP fighting on its own in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it would not impact the seat-share arrangement in Uttar Pradesh.

If BJP sources are to be believed, a formula has already been worked out with Mayavati which involves the “simple” quid pro quo: she would contest the bulk of the Assembly seats and the BJP, a chunk of the Lok Sabha seats.

The Congress, on the other hand, could be forced to consort with the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra — because it also suits Sharad Pawar — but face the wrath of Vidya Charan Shukla in Chhattisgarh.

Bhilwada MP Vijayendra Pal Singh stressed that the “feel good” sense about the economy was “too strong” to be ignored while making electoral calculations. “The next monsoon may not be as good as this year’s. Good rains means the GDP rate goes up, inflation falls. Why allow these advantages to be frittered away over the year'”

More mundane considerations seemed to be weighing on other MPs. A top cabinet minister and a Lok Sabha MP, who did not wish to be quoted, said: “Ask those who contest elections on what is the best season and the answer will be early winter. November to March is the ideal time.”

There were few takers for the scheduled period of September-October, he added. “These are the worst months in North India.”

“In any case, the world over it is a done thing to hold elections six or seven months before schedule. It’s nothing earth-shattering.” His other argument in favour of a November election was: “You can pass a proper budget in February without feeling hemmed in from all sides and without resorting to a vote-on-account.”

But other BJP MPs were not so gung-ho. Aligarh MP Sheela Gautam called early elections a “wrong thing”.

“As long as there is no problem in convening Parliament and no extraordinary situation, what is the need to bring elections forward'” Gautam asked. If rains and floods were a problem, Gautam’s suggestion was that the September 2004 polls could be pushed to November or December instead of bringing them forward.

The NDA allies were more upfront in their opposition. “I don’t know what the BJP is going to do,” said minister of state for external affairs Digvijay Singh, who is from the Samata Party.

 

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