The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Behind the battle, a private war

New Delhi, Oct. 3: After the yatras, Maharashtra has become the new battleground for the BJP's GeNext to test its political skills and resilience.

Party general secretary Pramod Mahajan ' out in the cold after the NDA was voted out in the Lok Sabha polls ' has been looking at the state as his exclusive turf to prove that he is not down and out.

Whether it was finalising seat sharing with the Shiv Sena, formulating a campaign theme or using the Samajwadi Party and the BSP as forces to undermine the Congress-NCP combine, it was Mahajan's show all the way.

When Uma Bharti put a spanner in the works by asking the Maharashtra BJP to get involved in her tiranga yatra, Mahajan made it clear that Hindutva-related issues had no place in the campaign.

He even ensured that Uma would have a lesser role to play in the polls than Sushma Swaraj. While the sadhvi has been allotted five days and 15 meetings, Sushma has bagged seven days and 28 meetings, falling just behind the number Mahajan and brother-in-law Gopinath Munde will address.

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, a Mahajan prot'g', is likely to be used a lot more than Uma. He has also roped in Uma's successor and Madhya Pradesh chief minister Babulal Gaur to speak in the Yadav-dominated areas.

Sources said Mahajan was not keen on 'letting' the other general secretary, Arun Jaitley, step on his fief. But he was persuaded by the party to allocate two days and five meetings to Jaitley.

The sources claimed that, in his own way, Jaitley had ensured that NCP chief Sharad Pawar was not allowed to have his way in the BCCI elections. And while his defeat, they said, may not impact the state elections directly, it has shattered the myth that the Maharashtra strongman, with his well-entrenched network, was a past master at realpolitik. A 'demoralised' Pawar, the sources claimed, was not good news for the Congress-NCP alliance.

Barring Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, Mahajan and Munde also ensured that the BJP's other 'star' campaigners like M. Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi are drafted in a 'limited' way. Filmstars Hema Malini, Dharmendra, Shatrughan Sinha and Vinod Khanna are also getting the same treatment.

Asked why the Uttar Pradesh and Bihar leaders were not being deployed in areas peopled by heartland migrants, sources said the Samajwadi Party would do the 'job' for the BJP-Sena combine.

The BJP is working on the presumption that the north Indian voters would not vote for it because of the Sena's Maharashtrian-centric image. Mahajan and company are, therefore, banking on the Samajwadi Party to split their votes. Mulayam Singh Yadav's party, which will contest 80 seats, has despatched its leaders from east Uttar Pradesh, notably Raja Bhaiyya, to pull the votes away from the Congress.

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