The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP takes the centre
- Whee, whee, whee: it’s three to one

New Delhi, Dec. 4: The BJP has hit the Congress where it hurts most: the stomach.

From Rajasthan in the west through Madhya Pradesh in the centre to Chhattisgarh in the east, middle India has dramatically swung from one end to the other, coinciding with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s objective of turning the BJP centrist.

As Vajpayee fed BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu laddoos and a beaming Lal Krishna Advani watched with this election’s backroom heroes Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley standing in joyful attendance, celebrating the party’s stunning win, the message that was put out was that these polls were as much a victory of development and governance over mandir and masjid.

The Prime Minister made it a point to mention that and it was a line which was immediately picked up by the allies — wary of the BJP raking up Ayodhya in the coming Lok Sabha polls.

In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP won absolute majority and in Chhattisgarh a simple majority, leaving the Congress with no room to hide its face other than tiny Delhi and the poll pundits a somewhat shamefaced.

Only Sheila Dikshit delivered Congress president Sonia Gandhi a convincing win that will hardly be consolation for the wipeout in the three bigger states with less than a year left for the Lok Sabha elections.

Vajpayee as well as Naidu made it clear that a 3-1 victory would not mean early parliamentary polls. “I wish to state clearly that there is no proposal for advancing the Lok Sabha polls. We will use the remaining months to accelerate the Centre’s achievements,” Naidu said.

The BJP had confined its campaign in the four states to development and governance and refused to be distracted by the Congress’ effort to play a “soft” Hindutva line. The Congress’ strategy now stands completely discredited after the loss in Gujarat to Narendra Modi’s flogging of hardcore religious sentiments, followed by a defeat to a diametrically opposite policy adopted by the BJP in the current polls.

While the incumbent Madhya Pradesh government was saddled with the baggage of a 10-year rule and the popular disenchantment it had caused, the Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan regimes were supposed to have a good record on development. The first was known for its road-building, water management and surplus power. Ashok Gehlot’s administration in Rajasthan had distinguished itself in drought management.

Yet, none of these perceived attributes withstood the BJP’s campaign onslaught which was crafted to tap a “high discomfort level induced by misgovernance and other factors”.

“Nobody talked about mandir and masjid,” Vajpayee said.

And the party was talking the way he wanted it to. Naidu said the verdict was as much a “victory for development” as Vajpayee’s “leadership and the good government he has given”.

He said the result had reinforced the BJP’s position as the fulcrum of the NDA coalition. “People said the BJP was losing ground after joining the NDA. But the victory in the heartland was on the strength of our own leadership and our manifesto.”

The allies — from the Telugu Desam to the DMK, which has been wobbly of late — applauded the victory of “development” over mandir. “The BJP won on the issue of development, not Hindutva,” the DMK said.

A dejected Sonia Gandhi expressed “deep disappointment” and said the party would have to “pull up its socks” before the Lok Sabha battle.

Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy said: “We hold nobody responsible. These trends are temporary.”

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