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Naidu grabs at sympathy straw

New Delhi/ Hyderabad, Oct. 13: Telugu Desam Party chief . Chandrababu Naidu is weighing the pros and cons of advancing Assembly elections to February to cash in on the “sympathy wave” generated by the Naxalite bid on his life and the lull in the Congress campaign against his party.

Elections in Andhra Pradesh are due in October 2004, along with the Lok Sabha polls. Sources said the chief minister, beleaguered by the stamp paper scam, drought and farmer suicides, is overwhelmed by the “public support” and has asked party managers to commission a survey to gauge the popular mood and the party’s rating. A party source, however, claimed that the survey is a routine one and has nothing to do with elections.

While the Desam seems divided on whether Naidu can sustain the wave till October next year, the state BJP claimed that the “signals of an early poll are there for everyone to see”. After a two-day chintan baithak near Hyderabad, BJP leaders said “though there is no concrete signal from the TDP about advancing polls, we do not rule out such a possibility”.

A senior Desam leader, however, said neither has Naidu “revealed his mind” nor has the party’s politburo discussed the timing of the polls. But he added that the most important factor for the party is the drought condition.

“After two years of severe drought, we had good rain recently. There is a feel-good factor now. We can’t say anything about the next monsoon. We are doomed if the monsoon fails again,” he said, arguing that it makes sense to advance elections as the future is uncertain.

Moreover, the party seems to be veering round to the view that if the state polls are delinked from the general elections — in turn, the Desam from the NDA — more minorities might vote for the party.

Apart from the sympathy factor, the attack also helped Naidu blunt the Congress campaign against him. The faction-ridden Congress was closing ranks and gearing up to launch a major offensive against the Desam, especially after the multi-crore stamp paper scam. The party was forced to defer its “unity tour” — all faction leaders travelling in a bus — on October 9 after landmines flattened Naidu’s car near Tirumala.

Sonia Gandhi summoned state party chief D. Srinivas at the beginning of this week to discuss the fallout of the Naxalite attack. The incident also helped contain the growing disenchantment among people in the Naxalite-infested Telengana region against Naidu’s government.

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