The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM prefers date by consensus

New Delhi, Aug. 11: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has indicated that he does not favour general elections in November.

BJP sources close to him said Vajpayee prefers to wait for the outcome of the five Assembly polls and a consensus within the BJP as well as the NDA before considering the option of general elections in February.

Vajpayee’s statement at yesterday’s rally in Jaipur — that the Assembly elections by the end of the year and the Lok Sabha polls next year would be a test for all parties — “said it all”, according to a source.

The statement prompted the BJP to put off a meeting of its MPs scheduled for August 23 and 24 in Jaipur. The meeting was to have made a decision on advancing the general elections.

The postponement was decided by BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu and other office-bearers today. “The idea of a November general election seems very remote. We will consult the PM before organising the next meeting,” said an office-bearer.

BJP sources said while Vajpayee is open to February polls — discussed in recent conclaves, including the Indore and Raipur executives and the Mumbai chintan baithak — November is not a date he had in mind.

The proposal for simultaneous Assembly and Parliament polls was aired by L.K. Advani.

“He (Vajpayee) decided to keep quiet and allow the idea to die a slow death just as he did when a section of the BJP wanted to take Kalyan Singh back. By saying nothing publicly, he said it all,” a source said.

Vajpayee’s reasons are:

  • It can induce a sense of “defeatism” in those contesting the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Delhi, where the BJP’s stakes are “huge”. “The way the case was argued it seemed the BJP could win these polls only if the Lok Sabha elections were held simultaneously and the contest was converted into a Vajpayee-versus-Sonia Gandhi one,” a source said.

  • A section not keen on joint November polls questioned the “political wisdom” of why Vajpayee was being made to carry the “burden” of the state elections. “The Congress is in power in these states and, logically, the BJP should ride to victory on the anti-incumbency sentiment. Wasn’t that how the Congress came to power recently in Himachal Pradesh'” a source asked.

Vajpayee cited the 1998 example to his confidants and recalled how he had put his foot down when the then Delhi and Rajasthan chief ministers, M.L. Khurana and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, wanted to shift the Assembly elections (due in November) and hold them with the April parliamentary polls. “He did not want national and local issues to get mixed up,” a source said.

His position was subsequently vindicated. The BJP emerged as the single largest party in 1998, lost the Assembly polls in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan seven months later and, less than a year after, picked up a third of its Lok Sabha seats from these very states.

“If the BJP strategists feel anti-incumbency will not impact the Congress in these states, the Prime Minister is equally clear that he will not allow his image and standing, which remain intact even in the fourth year of power, to be put at stake there,” a source said.

Vajpayee is also keen to avoid a confrontation with chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh who does not favour simultaneous polls.

and respects his constitutional right to call polls within six months of Parliament’s dissolution. “There is no point pressuring him (the CEC) to hold November elections when he has spoken his mind,” a source said.

BJP sources said the November proposal was floated by those members who had a stake, direct or indirect, in the impending Assembly polls even as Vice-President Shekhawat continued to evince an interest in Rajasthan while law and commerce minister Arun Jaitley was in charge of Madhya Pradesh.

Naidu’s fate depended “critically” on the outcome. Two other members, believed to be part of Naidu’s power cabal, pitched in: Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi whose contention was that if the BJP was to retain 21 of the 26 Lok Sabha seats, an early election was the only answer or else the Congress would get its act together and newly-appointed Karnataka BJP chief Ananth Kumar.

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