The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Wind blows against early election

Mumbai, June 19: As hard rain lashed the picture-postcard venue of the BJP’s chintan baithak, the message that trickled out was of majority opinion flowing towards holding the next parliamentary polls in the second half of next year, as scheduled.

A statement released by the party said cryptically: “Next parliamentary elections (are) scheduled to be held in the latter half of next year.”

There have been two contesting views within the party for some time now on the timing of the Lok Sabha election, with one section preferring an earlier date — early 2004 or even with the polls in five states late this year — and another choosing to wait until the scheduled time.

Sources said that at the session Atal Bihari Vajpayee argued that it was best for the party to “first see its performance in the Assembly elections and not push for early general elections”.

This has been Vajpayee’s view even earlier and this is the opinion that seems to be prevailing, though the statement does not commit the party to either early or on-schedule polls. Some party sources, however, attributed the lack of clarity to bad drafting.

“The meeting discussed the preparedness of the party organisation for achieving success in Mission 2004 — namely, (the) next parliamentary elections scheduled to be held in the latter half of next year. In this context, detailed discussions took place on the party’s relations with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance in different states,” the BJP statement said.

At the moment, Vajpayee’s opinion on the timing may be the dominant one in the party, but that by no means settles the question once and for all.

If the results in the five states go in favour of the BJP, the wind may change in the direction of an early parliamentary poll.

The party spent a great deal of time discussing its ties with NDA partners, most of whom do not want an early election. The statement may have been made to calm their nerves that, as of now, there is no decision on the timing of the polls.

Vajpayee would not want the elections to be advanced as he needs time to see the end of his twin initiatives running on parallel tracks — peace with Pakistan and settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

Arriving bleary-eyed from his foreign trip at 2.30 am on the penultimate day of the session, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani picked up the unity song the leadership has been singing with Vajpayee yesterday offering paeans to party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu’s “energy” and the blessed melting in gratefulness to pay obeisance to the “great leader”.

Advani — described by the Prime Minister yesterday as a source of strength — said Vajpayee’s peace initiative with Pakistan has won India global acclaim.

“It has once again convinced the international community of Atalji’s sincere efforts to establish peace and normal relations with Pakistan and to resolve all bilateral issues with our neighbour through dialogue.”

The two met here for only a brief while because Vajpayee left today to prepare for his China trip on June 22. Indications suggested the Ayodhya issue might dominate the session’s last day tomorrow.

The VHP has been spewing fire for the past few days for having been left out of the process of negotiated settlement the Prime Minister seems to have initiated through the Sankaracharya of Kanchi.

The RSS, too, has stood up with the VHP to shake an angry fist at the government, but indications emerging from the BJP signal the party is determined to stand by the Prime Minister’s exercise.

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