The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM foreign visit trips up on early elections

New Delhi, Jan. 19: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has called off his overseas trips early next month to press ahead with the agenda of early elections, possibly by late March or early April.

Vajpayee was scheduled to leave for Thailand on February 8 to attend a regional summit and proceed to Australia from there.

BJP sources said the Prime Minister cancelled the trips because “being out of the country for a whole week when everybody is in election mode will not send a positive signal”. “The Prime Minister has made up his mind on early elections. Naturally he would like them to be held at the earliest,” a source added.

With the summit out of the way, Vajpayee may recommend dissolution of Parliament either on February 5 or 6 after the vote-on-account is passed.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan said in Mumbai the party would press for general elections “as early as possible”. He added that a delegation of BJP leaders would meet the chief election commissioner (CEC) — T.S. Krishnamurthy was today named to succeed J.M. Lyngdoh — to put forth this demand.

Krishnamurthy is expected to take charge on February 8.

Sources said the impetus for an early election got strengthened for three reasons: one, the fear that the longer the uncertainty, the greater the chances of the Congress enlarging its alliance; two, to not allow the “feel-good-feel-great” theme to lose sheen; and three, the perception that the “pro-BJP” mood in crucial BJP-ruled states like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh may start dissipating.

Starting with a luncheon meeting he had with deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu, Vajpayee, who generally remains aloof from party matters, signalled a change by plunging into political and organisational nitty-gritty.

Sources said the trio discussed alliances, states where Assembly and Lok Sabha polls could be held simultaneously, the new CEC’s appointment and the possible election schedules. The decision to drop the foreign trips was apparently taken at the meeting.

The sources said the leaders sounded positive about a prospective tie-up with Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu. They also believe Nationalist Congress Party leader P.A. Sangma’s entry will strengthen the NDA in the Northeast. The seven northeastern states together contribute 25 seats and the BJP feels it can build a formidable block there with four or five of its own and Sangma chipping in with 10 to 14.

It appears the BJP’s blueprint of holding simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in as many states as possible may not fructify. Only Andhra Pradesh and Orissa seem prepared. Mahajan said a decision on dissolving the Orissa Assembly could be taken by January 28.

Earlier, the BJP wanted Assembly polls in Karnataka and Maharashtra as well since the life of the Houses there would expire in October. But the Karnataka chief minister has ruled out the possibility, while the consolidation of the Congress-Sharad Pawar alliance ensures continuation of the Maharashtra coalition.

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