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Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP caps early election trumpet
- Party discovers virtue of discretion

New Delhi, Jan. 11: Pramod Mahajan may have spoken too soon.

BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi was today less sure about committing to an early election — as early as late March or early April, as Mahajan indicated yesterday — when he said: “There is only a 50-50 per cent chance.”

Mahajan, also a general secretary, had virtually unspooled a date sheet for the elections by declaring that the Centre would announce the fate of the 13th Lok Sabha on Makar Sankranti on January 14.

“I cannot say anything now about the dissolution of Parliament. I do not want to comment on Mahajan’s views and neither have I come here to analyse Mahajan’s views,” Naqvi said.

Asked whether “50-50” meant holding elections in March or on schedule in September, he replied: “No, it means 50 per cent of the decision will reflect the BJP’s preference and 50 per cent will be up to the government and the Election Commission.”

He also stressed there was “no difference of opinion” in the BJP.

BJP sources said after Mahajan’s detailed briefing yesterday, which gave an impression that the decision on advancing the polls was already clinched and that there was nothing for the executive to deliberate on, the party resolved to say no more on the subject.

“But this does not mean that the party is having second thoughts on the issue. The Prime Minister himself is convinced that early polls are best for the party. Tactically, it is wise to maintain silence,” they said.

The “tactic” was influenced both by the fact that the present chief election commissioner, J.M. Lyngdoh, would retire on February 7 and the NDA allies had expressed different views in a meeting the Prime Minister had called last week.

The sources said the BJP believed it needed time to suss up Lyngdoh’s successor and see how far he would go in accommodating its preferences about the poll timing. A section of the BJP appears to feel that the next chief election commissioner should be “pressured” into notifying the elections within 45 days of Parliament’s dissolution. But some leaders believe the government ought not to “exceed its jurisdiction vis-à-vis the Election Commission”.

The Prime Minister, the sources said, did not want to land himself in the same plight as Andhra Pradesh chief minister . Chandrababu Naidu who was quick to dissolve the Assembly after the Naxalite attack on him, but was now at the Centre’s mercy on the poll date.

Naidu, they said, had no idea whether he would go to the polls as a caretaker chief minister or under President’s rule.

Vajpayee is also keen on attending the first summit of the Southeast Asian economic grouping, Bimstec (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand Economic Co-operation) at Phuket on February 8-10 as a full-fledged head of government and not a caretaker Prime Minister.

If Vajpayee announces dissolution of Parliament on January 14, as Mahajan indicated, he will have to go there as the caretaker Prime Minister. Sources close to Vajpayee, however, clarified he would not make it an issue if the dominant BJP view was for a March or early April election.

“There are precedents when Prime Ministers have gone to such summits as caretaker,” they said.

In the NDA, at least four important constituents — the Indian National Lok Dal, Telugu Desam Party, Akali Dal and the Janata Dal (United) — have disfavoured the April 13 to May 15 period because of the harvest season and the migration of labour from states like Bihar and Jharkhand to Punjab and Haryana.

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Uma Bharti has also spoken of a March or late May polls for the same reason, said sources.

Keeping in mind these factors, a late March or early April polls seems the most probable, the sources added. Vajpayee, they said, is expected to indicate his mind tomorrow, either when the political resolution is discussed or in his concluding remarks.

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