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Date damper on poll-set Naidu

New Delhi/Hyderabad, Nov. 14: The Andhra Pradesh governor has dissolved the Assembly, meeting a constitutional requirement to activate Chandrababu Naidu’s plan for early elections, but the Election Commission has disagreed with the chief minister’s choice of dates.

Naidu, who is also the Telugu Desam Party chief, prefers elections in February 2004. But the chief election commissioner said the polls could be held in March or later.

At 10.15 am, Naidu signed a cabinet resolution recommending the dissolution. He called on governor S.S. Barnala at 12.30 pm to submit the recommendation, made “in view of the grave threat posed by extremism to the development of the state”.

The chief minister, who is hoping to cash in on a sympathy wave resulting from the October 1 bid on his life near Tirupati by People’s War activists, sought a fresh mandate to fight “extremism with a ruthless hand”. He was asked to continue as the head of a “caretaker government” until further notice.

Naidu’s likely poll ally, the BJP, termed his move “bold and courageous”. It added that the decision would “go down well” with the people of Andhra Pradesh.

In a statement, BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “Progress is not possible without peace. Thus, those who believe in peace will accept the challenge thrown by the Naxalites and the people of Andhra will give a clear mandate for development and peace.”

However, the main Opposition Congress and Left parties criticised the decision.

The first signs of trouble for Naidu came when chief election commissioner J.M. Lyngdoh was asked in Delhi if polls would be held in February. “Not before February. Maybe in March or beyond March,” said Lyngdoh.

Naidu, keen to derive electoral mileage before the assassination bid fades from public memory, wants polls in February. “Students will be put to inconvenience if elections are held in March. We will be happy if they are held before March.”

But Lyngdoh said the commission would hold the polls only when its preparations are complete. “The Election Commission takes its own time and whenever it is ready to carry out such exercises,” he said.“Our objective is to have a proper election and not to have a quick and bad election,” he said.

Naidu said: “It is not proper for a caretaker government to continue for a long time. Dissolving the Assembly is in our hands, but not holding of elections. It is the job of the Election Commission.”

He is anxious to avoid simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in the state as he feels he would have to contend with a “double anti-incumbency” factor. He feels more minority community members may vote for his party in a delinked election as there is no NDA in the state.

If he becomes chief minister again, Naidu will be able to devote more time to the Lok Sabha polls and bargain with the BJP for more seats.

The Constitution allows the panel six months from the time a House is dissolved to hold polls.

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