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Election date left to PM

New Delhi, Jan. 8: The National Democratic Alliance today authorised Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to decide how early the Lok Sabha polls are to be called.

A meeting of the allies chaired by Vajpayee this evening at his residence expressed “total confidence” in his “wisdom”.

Mausam chunav ke anukool hai (The time is favourable for elections),” Vajpayee is believed to have said.

Sources said the polls were “most likely” to be held in May since, at today’s meeting, some members expressed reservations about April.

“April is harvest time in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, so the turnout could be lower than normal. The Kumbh Mela is also taking place in Madhya Pradesh in April and it would be difficult for pilgrims to return to their homes just to vote,” they said.

Even less probable seems March, the sources added. Even the BJP needs time to expand its alliances in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, explore the possibility of holding Assembly polls simultaneously in states other than Andhra Pradesh and allow the benefits of the measures announced today by finance minister Jaswant Singh to be felt.

The sources argued that May would give the government a chance to present an interim budget with the opportunity to offer more carrots as the Election Commission’s code of conduct would come into effect only from mid-March. Under the rules, there has to be a gap of 46 days between notifying the dates and holding the polls.

NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes said after the meeting: “What he (Vajpayee) said was for members sitting there. He was not expected to indicate what was on his mind.”

Soon after external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha briefed the partners on the Saarc summit and Jaswant Singh on today’s concessions, Fernandes told the meeting advancing election dates was on the agenda.

Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani proposed that instead of discussing it, the NDA should authorise the Prime Minister to take a decision. “All other consequential things come later,” he is believed to have said.

The allies were told they could convey their views to Vajpayee, if they so chose. Official sources clarified that no time frame was set.

BJP sources described the meeting as part of the exercise to evolve a consensus — or at least appear to do so — by first taking the allies into confidence. The next step will be to secure a similar authorisation from the BJP at the Hyderabad national executive this weekend. That done, the sources said, Vajpayee will convene a cabinet meeting to decide when Parliament should be convened to pass a vote-on-account/interim budget prior to dissolution.

Fernandes said election strategies or alliances were not discussed. But the presence of two constituents — the Indian National Lok Dal and the Pattali Makkal Katchi — generated speculation as both were reportedly “in two minds” about staying on with the BJP.

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