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Poach or poll? Delhi BJP awaits Modi signal

New Delhi, July 16: The Delhi BJP is pressuring its leaders to put in place a government before President’s rule runs its course, aware that its “bingo!” moment may have come and gone.

Sources said a call on whether it was “politically prudent” to get a majority by engineering defections from the Opposition and then stake claim to form a government or go for fresh elections would be taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after he returns from Brazil.

Delhi was placed under central rule for six months in February after the 49-day Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-Congress government collapsed under the weight of its contradictions. Constitutionally, the arrangement can be extended for another six months. At the end of it, if no party stakes claim to form a government, Delhi would have to vote again.

This morning, several BJP legislators called on new state president Satish Upadhyay and urged him to “explore” the prospects of cobbling the majority the BJP needs to stake claim.

The last election had yielded a hung verdict in which the BJP emerged as the single largest party with 31 seats in the 70-member Assembly. The Congress got eight seats and the AAP 28. The AAP has since lost one who joined the two Independents.

The BJP’s strength has since come down to 28 after three of its MLAs — Harsh Vardhan, Ramesh Bidhuri and Parvesh Sahib Verma — won the Lok Sabha election. Correspondingly, the strength of the Assembly too has been reduced to 67, which means the BJP requires six more members to reach the majority mark of 34.

“Our minds are made up. We will let on the decision shortly,” Union home minister and former BJP president Rajnath Singh told The Telegraph.

Upadhyay said: “There should be an elected government in Delhi because it cannot live in uncertainty. The party’s senior leaders will decide.”

While former MLA Vijay Jolly maintained that the BJP “did not believe in horse-trading”, sources claimed that “six” Congress MLAs were “willing to cross over”.

Asked if the BJP was not looking at spiriting away AAP MLAs, a Delhi leader said: “That’s not going to be easy because the two-thirds needed to legalise a split means we have to wean away as many as 18 MLAs. We are not sure if this will work out. Frankly, nobody has the time, space and energy to indulge in an exercise of this sort.”

The BJP MLAs who have been advocating government formation argue that plunging into a mid-term election is not “tenable”, although the party won all the seven Lok Sabha seats in the capital and polled 47 per cent of the votes.

“The figure is deceptive,” an insider explained. “The AAP polled 33 per cent and the Congress, 15 per cent. That means 48 per cent of Delhi’s voters will not vote for the BJP, come what may. And remember, these are statistics that have come at the peak of a Modi wave. If this wave recedes, the BJP is back to a familiar scenario of jousting leaders, conflicting caste equations and so on. So the result may be pretty much what it was in 2013 or, perhaps, the AAP may scrape through with a bare majority.”

The number of nay-sayers in the BJP, who had initially advocated caution in setting up a regime with breakaway groups, has thinned down as more and more believe “pragmatism” and “convenience” were the best options to spare the MLAs another election.

“There is a sense of inevitability. The larger issue before the Congress and the BJP is to dismantle the AAP and keep it out of future equations. If the prospective government survives its term, be sure the AAP will disappear,” the insider claimed.

Jagdish Mukhi, a BJP veteran, is emerging as the frontrunner for the chief minister’s post, based on the “theory of consensus” that supposedly makes him acceptable to the party’s factions.