The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP gets down to plugging the leak

New Delhi, May 11: The BJP has not allowed itself to be fazed by the rout of the National Democratic Alliance in Andhra Pradesh.

Aided by NDA convener and defence minister George Fernandes, party leaders have begun exploring ways to fill in the shortfall that exit polls have predicted. BJP sources said Fernandes had a one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee this morning and might start speaking to Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar and the Pattali Makkal Katchi, a constituent of the DMK-led alliance in Tamil Nadu.

The BJP’s internal assessment was the “worst case scenario” might result in a shortfall of 20 seats, which, the sources claimed, could be “plugged” with the help of one “fairly big” block and smaller parties and Independents. Pawar and the PMK, the sources felt, were the “weak” links in the Congress’ chain of alliances. “It is easier to work on them,” they said. The sources said they expected the NCP to get 12 MPs from Maharashtra.

According to the sources, the Bahujan Samaj Party was the other entity the BJP would woo. General secretary Pramod Mahajan, who oversaw the Uttar Pradesh campaign, and human resource development minister Murli Manohar Joshi were likely to speak to BSP leader Mayavati who, the BJP believes, would strike a hard bargain.

There is a feeling in the party that having gone through three “bitter” experiences by tying up with the BSP in Uttar Pradesh, Mayavati should be viewed as the last option. The sources said she might try and “extract” a deal, which could include the post of deputy Prime Minister for herself and the ouster of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government in Lucknow.

As for the Samajwadi Party, the sources said the possibility of including it in the NDA was “as good as over”. “Our limited purpose was to try and divide the Muslim votes in Uttar Pradesh by creating an impression that we are cosying up to Mulayam Singh. We think it worked,” they said.

The BJP’s calculation was that it was “more useful” to have the Samajwadi Party as a “friendly” Opposition party which could be counted on to bail out the government during crucial moments in Parliament through abstentions and walkouts. This was the equation the ADMK had with the BJP when it was not part of the NDA.

A meeting at the Prime Minister’s residence this evening was attended by L.K. Advani, Fernandes, Jaswant Singh, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Mahajan, Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj to take stock of the Andhra results and discuss possible scenarios emanating from the internal projections.

After the meeting, Venkaiah Naidu told reporters he was confident the NDA would get a majority on its own and form the government. “There is no alternative,” the BJP chief maintained. As for approaching non-NDA parties, Naidu said the question, if at all, would arise after the results are declared.

The smaller parties the BJP is eyeing include the Prakash Ambedkar-led Republican Party of India, which was not part of the Congress-NCP front in Maharashtra, and the Telengana Rashtra Samiti. The TRS fought the Andhra polls in alliance with the Congress and swept the Telengana region.

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