The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP banks on proxy votes

New Delhi, Feb. 19: The BJP is hoping that the passage of the Bill providing proxy voting rights to army officers and soldiers today will help it in the Himachal Pradesh elections.

The Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha though the Opposition alleged that it violated secrecy of ballot.

The BJP’s calculation was that the hill state had a large number of servicemen who were unable to vote in the past. Sources said that though it would take time to enfranchise them, the legislation would prove that the Vajpayee government was “sincere” about something promised by the BJP since a long time. “Himachal has a huge voting sector of ex-servicemen and this move would certainly gladden them,” they maintained.

Sources said during its Himachal campaign, the BJP would highlight the “fact” that the Congress had opposed the Bill under “pressure” from the Left.

Law minister Arun Jaitley said 90 per cent of the armed forces could not vote because of procedural difficulties. He termed the legislation, which would enable them to cast their vote through an authorised person, as a “new experiment”.

The Opposition — whose case was that exercise of franchise was a “non-transferable” right and, therefore, the Bill violated the Constitution — asked for an all-party meeting to evolve a consensus. Jaitley’s answer was “I know parties which have opposed this legislation but are supporting open voting in the Rajya Sabha”.

The Bill was passed by a voice vote with the Opposition hardly around.

PM roots for peace

The Prime Minister today chose to intervene during the question hour in response to a query by Ramdas Athavale, an MP of the Republican Party of India.

“We are not in favour of war. There should be no war either between India and Pakistan or between the US and Iraq,” said Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Athavale’s query as to why India should not wage war against Pakistan as a “final solution” to the continuing tension between the two countries.

Vajpayee’s message for peace, shorn of any ambivalence, stood in stark contrast to the comments later made by some members of his party during a discussion in the Lok Sabha on the US-Iraq tension. The Prime Minister is usually known as a ‘dove’ in his party, majority of whose members root for an aggressive stand against Pakistan.

This was apparent when the BJP’s parliamentary spokesperson, V.K. Malhotra, accused the US of turning a blind eye to Pakistan’s machinations. “Instead of waging a war against Iraq, why does the US not attack Pakistan, which is harbouring terrorists' Only then can there be a real war against terror,” he said.

He was echoing the argument of hawks in the BJP, who favour an attack on Pakistan to settle disputes. “The US has given Pakistan the most favoured nation status and is doling out huge amounts of money to the ruling dispensation which is spending all of it in boosting terrorism.

“There is a new centre of terrorist activity coming up in Bangladesh. The US is ignoring that,” added Malhotra.

In his reply to the discussion on Iraq, finance minister and former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh said: “War is the last option for settling the dispute.”

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