The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sink or swim with southern tide

New Delhi, May 9: Down to the wire it is and the wire is in the South.

Whether or not the Vajpayee-led alliance will cross the half-way mark could well be decided in Tamil Nadu which, with Pondicherry, sends 40 members to Parliament.

In tomorrow’s elections to 182 seats, Tamil Nadu is expected to hold the biggest surprise because of a line-up that has not been seen before.

The BJP has teamed up with Jayalalithaa’s ADMK and the Congress with M. Karunanidhi’s DMK. For the first time, the state is politically polarised between two camps.

Contesting separately in 1999, the BJP and Jaya had won four and 11 seats, respectively. This time, in alliance, they have a vote share of just over 30 per cent. The other side, with the smaller regional parties counted in, commands close to 58 per cent.

Going by 1999’s vote shares, the fight would seem absurdly unequal — against the BJP alliance.

In the biggest round of the four-phase elections, similarly uneven is the match-up in Bengal, which has the largest number of seats, 42, in this stage. Here, too, the battle is unequal, but not absurdly so because whatever else it might be in elections Bengal is absurdly predictable. Last time, the Left had 29, Trinamul-BJP 10 and the Congress three.

The last round is also the most vulnerable for the BJP alliance because the scope for notching up gains here is narrow.

Possibly jarred by some of the exit polls predicting a hung Parliament, it made a late-hour switch to the question of stability in its campaign.

But in this phase, it is not even in the contest in Bengal and Kerala — and some would say even in Tamil Nadu. The three states together have 102 seats.

That leaves 80 where it can make an effort to increase the score. BJP strategists have turned to the 18 seats in western Uttar Pradesh, 17 in Madhya Pradesh, 13 in Punjab and five in Uttaranchal to cover for the expected losses in Tamil Nadu.

States like Haryana (10), Delhi (seven) and Himachal Pradesh (four) are small, but in 1999 the BJP and its allies had won all 21 of the seats. It runs the risk of losing a number of them this time because in Haryana it does not have an alliance. In Delhi, chief minister Sheila Dikshit’s performance is expected to fetch the Congress a few seats.

In Punjab, however, it stands to make some gains for reasons that are exactly the opposite of those in Delhi. The Congress government there has earned notoriety in a hurry, putting the party’s tally of eight in danger.

Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP threw in all its resources after the first two rounds of exit polls looked full of bad omen, is the other state that the Vajpayee alliance hopes will give it more than what it had last time.

With allies, the BJP held six of the 18 going to the polls tomorrow in western Uttar Pradesh. Seats that it wins here are likely to be at the expense of the Congress which has the largest tally among the BJP’s rivals.

Tomorrow will be a test for former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh, who rejoined the BJP after a bitter parting.

Watch out also for the Congress’ Pranab Mukherjee, veteran but still looking for his first election victory, in Bengal.

Also looking for his first win is Navjot Singh Sidhu (Amritsar) — a rookie in politics but a veteran in what politicians are expected to do well, talk.

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