The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP baithak to review poll date

New Delhi, June 13: The BJP’s four-day chintan baithak (introspective session) beginning June 17 is most likely to make a “clear and final” assessment on whether the Lok Sabha poll should be advanced to February-March 2004 or held as per schedule in September.

A senior party source drew a distinction between making an assessment and taking a decision, and stressed the decision would “depend on what the outcome of the four Assembly polls (in October-November) was”.

Although Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee wants his government to run its full term, a large section of the BJP felt an early election could “pay off” for several reasons.

The first argument is based on “feedback” that there was a “pro-BJP wave” in three of the states going to polls — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — and that the Lok Sabha election should be held before the “feel good” sentiment dissipates and the anti-incumbency factor catches up.

The other is that the longer the period, the greater the chances of a non-BJP formation coming into being under the Congress umbrella. The BJP is anxious to thwart the re-emergence of a “third force” which could include not just the Left and Samajwadi Party but “disenchanted” NDA constituents as well.

Sources emphasised that a decision would not be taken without taking the allies — especially the Telugu Desam Party — into confidence.

A review of the BJP’s alliances — present and prospective — would be high on the agenda. As sources candidly pointed out: “Despite the claim of winning 300 seats on our own, let us be realistic. These slogans are good for enthusing our cadre but on the ground we know it will be a tough job for us to retain our present strength of 182 seats and our allies to retain theirs of 120. So our priority should be to identify our strong and weak areas as well as those of our allies. If our allies are weak, it will not help us.”

The two lines that have emerged as the Lok Sabha poll draws closer — the BJP-centric one as opposed to the allies’ inclusive one — are expected to be discussed threadbare. If the latter line, reportedly favoured by the Prime Minister, prevails, sources said the BJP would have a pre-poll alliance as in 1999. It would, in that case, not have its own manifesto but go along with a common minimum agenda of governance.

BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan is working on a power-point presentation of how the electoral map of India has changed since 1999 to begin the exercise of singling out the NDA’s strengths and weaknesses.

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