The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jaya and Maya most wanted
- bjp fights shy of one lady’s show of strength, courts two others

New Delhi, Jan. 1: N. Chandrababu Naidu, M. Karunanidhi, Mamata Banerjee, Sukh Ram and Parkash Singh Badal no longer occupy the most favoured allies’ status in the BJP’s political scheme. Two feisty women have upstaged an equally fiery Mamata and the four heavyweights to emerge as the most sought-after by the BJP for the next round of Assembly elections in 2004.

They are J. Jayalalithaa and Mayavati. While Mayavati is already a power-sharing ally in Uttar Pradesh — though her Bahujan Samaj Party is not yet formally part of the NDA — the Tamil Nadu chief minister and ADMK leader hovers on the fringes.

The reason is that the BJP is still wary of her intentions and manoeuvres, although there is near-unanimity at the top that she would be a “more valuable” ally for the next Lok Sabha elections than its present partner, the DMK.

The RSS indicated its preference for the ADMK over the DMK in an editorial and articles in its in-house magazine, Organiser, after Jayalalithaa enacted a law banning “forcible” religious conversions in Tamil Nadu.

BJP sources, however, said: “It’s one thing for the RSS to endorse a policy for ideological reasons and another for us to jump into an alliance just because somebody has taken up a Hindutva-related cause. We have to be more pragmatic.”

Chafing under the recollections of its 1998 alliance with Jayalalithaa — which went through several hiccups before the ADMK chief toppled the BJP-led coalition in just one year — BJP sources recalled the cliché, “Once bitten, twice shy” to explain their reluctance.

“Once in a while we come across statements of Jayalalithaa wanting to play a big role in the national scene. Does this mean that she wants to lead a third front if it is revived' She should be clear about what she wants — retain hold of her state and have an alliance with us or make a debut in Delhi with the help of others,” a senior functionary said.

But there was also a realisation within the BJP that the DMK had not managed to get its act together after the drubbing in the last Assembly elections. Its Tamil Nadu unit was dead against the DMK and felt that Jayalalithaa may be “more accommodating” a second time as she has exhausted the Congress option.

“She is the one who has been making overtures to us this time, whether it was on the issue of supporting Pota (the anti-terrorism law), condemning the Godhra carnage or expressing a desire to attend Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony,” a BJP source said.

They stressed that it was at Jayalalithaa’s express wish that she was invited to Ahmedabad for the swearing-in. But the sources added that she was made to sit in the second row on the dais rather than share a pride of place with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani.

Mayavati’s captive Dalit vote bank was seen as her greatest asset by the BJP, forcing the high command to take a grim view of Uttar Pradesh party chief Vinay Katiyar’s ongoing Ambedkar yatra.

“It sends a wrong message as though the BJP is competing for a share of the BSP’s Dalit votes,” the sources said.

Sources in Uttar Pradesh, however, maintained that Katiyar’s yatra was meant to propagate the “Hindutva slant” in B.R. Ambedkar’s writings, keep the BJP cadre engaged in political activity and tell the party’s supporters that it would not play “second fiddle” to Mayavati.

Mayavati had said her alliance with the BJP would not extend beyond Uttar Pradesh to other states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where the BSP has substantial presence. BJP strategists were already thinking up ‘formulae” which could persuade her to consider a “larger partnership” with the party.

“We can have an arrangement by which Mayavati can have her way in Uttar Pradesh and become a junior partner in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan,” the sources said.

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