The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Gujarat spinoffs for Atal

New Delhi, Dec. 16: There may be a disconnect between Hindutva and disinvestment but observers believe the BJP’s sweep in Gujarat may give the Centre the strength and legitimacy to push through its economic reforms agenda without glitches in future vis-a-vis its allies.

The BJP’s so-called secular allies like the Samata Party, the Telugu Desam Party and the Trinamul Congress welcomed the Gujarat verdict in varying degrees. But particularly significant were the quick reflexes of the Samata and Trinamul — the main NDA constituents opposing the disinvestment programme.

Their opposition was less ideological and more tactical, used often as a “pressure point” by Samata president and defence minister George Fernandes to reassert his pre-eminence in the NDA in the post-Tehelka phase.

Trinamul’s anti-disinvestment noises seemed a way of scoring brownie points over the Left or creating a level-playing field for itself in the battle for the white-and blue-collar votes.

The Samata’s Nitish Kumar — as much a power centre in his party as Fernandes — toed the BJP’s line of the Gujarat verdict being an answer to Narendra Modi’s challengers, while Trinamul president Mamata Banerjee — out on a limb politically — called BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu from her hospital bed in Calcutta to congratulate him.

Trinamul, which never failed to join the “secular” chorus of protest over issues like Ayodhya and the Gujarat riots, was apparently mellower after Modi’s sweep. Party general-secretary Mukul Roy said: “The people’s mandate should be respected.”

In a sense, Modi has solved the problems A.B. Vajpayee had faced from his allies on the economic and communal fronts. The fact that Vajpayee identified himself completely with Modi’s mandate after a phase of indecision on whether to continue with him as chief minister at the height of the communal violence has resolved the allies’ dilemma.

An ambiguous response on Hindutva from the Prime Minister confounded their own confusion in the past. A clear-headed Vajpayee meant there was no “soft-versus-hard line” debate within the BJP or the parivar and, therefore, the allies could expect one line.

The BJP, of course, continued to iterate that there was no question of deviating from the NDA agenda and whatever happened in the Assembly elections was divorced from the approach at the Centre and, therefore, the allies need not lose sleep.

Disinvestment and Hindutva apart, BJP sources said the Gujarat mandate reaffirmed the BJP’s position as the NDA’s core entity. While it was prepared to accommodate its allies within “reasonable” limits, it will be unprepared to put up with their whims and fancies.

“When we are perceived as politically weak after a defeat at the hustings or a string of defeats, our allies start flexing their muscles. It happened after we lost Uttar Pradesh. Gujarat, and earlier Goa, proved we are still a force to reckon with. The three byelection victories in Rajasthan have also conveyed the message that as far as the west is concerned, it is going back to the BJP. That’s no mean achievement,” a party leader claimed.


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