The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP eyes rival ranks in Rajasthan

New Delhi, Dec. 2: Amid claims of some “stunning poll management”, the BJP got ready to seek out Independents and smaller parties in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh if the states threw up a hung House as shown in today’s exit polls.

Although there was no formal meeting today, the party’s “ace” strategists Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley, both in Delhi now, were believed to be in touch with the state units to gather inputs to help get their act together.

In Rajasthan, sources said, a hung House would mean a crucial role for Independents and parties such as the Indian National Lok Dal and the Rajasthan Samajik Nyay Manch.

The INLD is part of the coalition at the Centre though it does not have an alliance with the BJP in Rajasthan. But, sources believe, “there was no way” INLD legislators would go with the Congress.

They also maintained that the Manch, floated by a BJP rebel on the upper-caste reservation plank, would “naturally gravitate” towards the BJP if it looked like the party would form the government.

As for Independents, Congress sources admitted that part of the BJP’s “stunning poll management” included “helping” Congress rebels in “more ways than one” to win.

“So, naturally, they cannot go anywhere else except the BJP,” the sources added.

The BJP, sources said, was prepared to concede the Chhattisgarh chief ministership to Vidya Charan Shukla even if his Nationalist Congress Party picked up only four or five seats. Part of the BJP’s strategy not to project a chief minister in the state was based on the likelihood of “suitably obliging” Shukla when push came to shove.

“Our first priority is to ensure that Ajit Jogi (the chief minister) will not pip us to the post if there is a hung House by resorting to his old trick of breaking parties and getting the numbers,” a source said. Jogi had split the BJP shortly after becoming chief minister.

Mahajan and Jaitley were getting ready to land in Chhattisgarh on December 4, the day of counting ballots, and personally monitor the developments.

But the BJP is alert to the likelihood of a Congress-NCP reunion if Jogi loses. The party considers Shukla’s silence on Sonia Gandhi and her “foreign” origin a “Congress-friendly” signal. Shukla is a former top Congress leader.

“Poll management”, which sources claimed helped a last-minute “upsurge” in the BJP’s favour, involved hiring a top pollster to identify constituencies considered “vulnerable” for the Congress.

For instance, the BJP reportedly pumped up the campaign of a Congress Muslim rebel in a Muslim-dominated seat who was “far more popular” than the official candidate.

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