The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP sees chances in Cong states split even

New Delhi, April 13: The BJP has already rated its chances in the four Congress-ruled states going to the polls later this year.

The party outlook places Rajasthan as the “least challenging”, followed by Madhya Pradesh. The “toughest” are Chhattisgarh and Delhi.

Although the BJP feels anti-incumbency sentiment is strong in all four states, Delhi, Chhattisgarh and even Madhya Pradesh could “partially neutralise” the feeling with their chief ministers’ personality.

In Rajasthan, the BJP claims its combined Hindutva-development poll plank will see it through “comfortably”.

So, together with criticising the Ashok Gehlot government for not handling drought and power effectively, the BJP working committee has come out strongly against the ban on possession and use of the trishul, the Sangh’s symbol of militancy.

At a meeting last week, state BJP chief Vasundhara Raje and national general secretary and poll in-charge Pramod Mahajan supported the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s “trishul diksha” despite the ban.

Sources said the BJP will decide on the extent of use of ideology in its campaign depending on the reaction the ban evokes.

“Even if Hindutva is used, it would be an add-on and not the main focus because we have enough ammunition against the Gehlot government,” they said.

“Ashok Gehlot’s leadership has been singularly uninspiring. He failed to articulate even the little things which could be counted as achievements of the government,” the sources said.

Gehlot’s apparent “inability to hit on the right caste equation” has added to what the BJP sees as his “lack of charisma”.

Although the BJP’s chief- ministerial candidate Raje was not quite seen as the “Jat leader” the party initially made her out to be, unqualified backing from Rajasthan strongman Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat has enhanced her popularity among the Rajputs, the sources said.

“So even if she doesn’t get 100 per cent support of the Jats, the Thakurs are gravitating towards her and that’s a big plus point,” they said.

Gehlot’s evasiveness on reservation for Jats in the early years of his rule cost the Congress dear in the last Lok Sabha polls. The BJP has claimed the “negative sentiments” are continuing four years later.

In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP cited chief minister Digvijay Singh’s “spin-doctoring” finesse and its own infighting as the biggest problems.

Although chief-ministerial candidate Uma Bharti is regarded as a “far more seasoned politician” than Raje, she has not been able to neutralise the old guard of Kailash Joshi and Vikram Verma like Raje did with Ramdas Aggarwal, Lalit Chaturvedi and Ghanshyam Tiwari.

Joshi has gone on record, saying the Madhya Pradesh chief ministership is “still open”.

The BJP central leadership’s efforts to marginalise him and pass the baton to younger leaders such as Bharti and Shivraj Chauhan notwithstanding, the BJP is in for a long haul in the state, the sources said.

In a bid to rein in Joshi, he was excluded from the 12-member election management panel.

But “by not being accepted by every faction of the BJP, Bharti’s presence increases the chances of Digvijay poaching on our ranks in case of a hung House, or even if we make it by the skin of our teeth”, sources said. “He is a past master at this sort of thing; she is inexperienced.”

The BJP is even considering a tie-up with its Uttar Pradesh ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party because of the BSP base in the Gwalior and Satna regions.

Although Bharti is not keen on the alliance, she has said: “If the central leaders want it, we would go along with them.”

The BJP hopes in Chhattisgarh revolve around Congress veteran V.C. Shukla’s shift to the Nationalist Congress Party. The party hopes this will spoil the Congress’ chances and wean away its upper-caste base.

The BJP is also banking on the “corruption” charges against chief minister Ajit Jogi and his family. But its biggest source of worry in the state is the absence of a chief ministerial candidate acceptable to all sections of the party.

In Delhi, the sources said, the BJP’s best bet is “tried and tested” Madan Lal Khurana, whose stint as chief minister is still considered “one of the best”.

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