The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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NDA jitters for BJP in poll mode

New Delhi, July 16: The departure of the National Conference from the NDA is the first sign that in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections, the Opposition’s space is likely to increase at the expense of the ruling coalition.

The National Conference was not the only constituent uncomfortable with the BJP, the coalition’s nucleus. The DMK, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Shiromani Akali Dal have voiced their reservations on various counts, political and personal.

The question bothering the BJP is whether the 24-member coalition (now 22) would hold together till 2004. The Raipur national executive is likely to delve into the issue and make a region-wise assessment to decide which allies would be worth retaining and if some of those in the first slot were deemed as “politically weak”, how the government and the BJP could shore them up.

While the Abdullahs’ exit was explained in the context of Jammu and Kashmir politics rather than in a national perspective, the BJP seems more concerned about the Akali Dal.

“We know for a fact that if we form the government again, the NC would have no choice but join us because they can’t go with the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party. The NC’s departure serves our purpose because the Jammu and Kashmir BJP was against the alliance. If we are to revive in Jammu, it’s good we got the NC off our back,” explained a functionary.

The Akalis were a different kettle of fish, he said. The BJP alone could only hope for the Hindu votes in Punjab, while the message of “Hindu-Sikh” unity that the Akali alliance beamed had a “positive” effect even in neighbouring Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and western Uttar Pradesh which have substantial Sikh population. This prompted the BJP to react, though belatedly, to the raids against Akali chief Parkash Singh Badal.

Sources said despite the problems Om Prakash Chautala had with the BJP’s Haryana unit, the party had no option but to stick to him. The state BJP’s argument that the Lok Dal had gained at its expense in the last Assembly elections did not wash with the central leaders. They felt if the Lok Dal managed to retain its present strength in the next Lok Sabha, it would continue to be useful.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has more or less decided to play second fiddle to Mayavati. The logic, said the sources, was that if it went along with the Bahujan Samaj Party, it could hope to pick up at least 20 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats. Alone, it could be wiped out.

Mayavati, on her part, has indicated that she would keep her options open. This was construed by the BJP as the prelude to a “hard bargain” if she bagged a sizeable number of seats.

If Mayavati is one source of anxiety, the lady in Tamil Nadu is another. The BJP is apparently unwilling to dump the DMK despite feedback that Jayalalithaa is reigning supreme. She, too, has made it clear that she would like to play kingmaker.

The third lady of the trinity, Mamata Banerjee remained the BJP’s best bet, said the sources. So, at the first opportunity she would be inducted in the cabinet in the hope that the Bengal alliance would continue, they added.

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