The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ambika in desert rush on result eve

New Delhi/Jaipur, Dec. 3: The Congress leadership may have contested the exit poll predictions of a hung Assembly in Rajasthan, but it is taking no chances.

AICC general secretary Ambika Soni and her deputy, B.K. Hari Prasad, have reached Jaipur to assist state leaders to cobble together a working majority in case the party does fall short of numbers.

The scenario in the desert state has been made more complex because of the presence of about 150 rebels and many smaller parties.

Although the Congress’ central poll managers in charge of Rajasthan have projected a “realistic” picture of 104-105 seats, which would mean another five-year stint in power, quite a few believe that no party would cross the magic figure of 100 in the 200-member Assembly.

Leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Indian National Lok Dal and the Samajik Nyaya Manch have even gone on record to assert that no new government can be formed in the state without their co-operation.

Soni has been entrusted with the task of contacting them with the help of party leader Mukul Wasnik, who has already reached Jaipur.

For Soni, considered the most powerful functionary in Sonia Gandhi’s AICC set-up, the stakes are high. Though she is also in charge of party affairs in Madhya Pradesh, she has effectively left poll fortunes there in the hands of chief minister Digvijay Singh.

So while she can duck responsibility in case of a reverse in Madhya Pradesh, she would find it difficult to pass the buck in Rajasthan. However, the general perception is that the Congress would emerge as the single largest party in the state even if it fails to get a majority.

A few days ago, Soni had dropped hints that she might offer to step down as general secretary should the party suffer reverses in the states under her charge. Which is why she has positioned herself in Jaipur ahead of the counting tomorrow.

Sonia, too, appeared tense about the Rajasthan outcome. This morning, she was seen anxiously asking party MPs from the state what they thought the result would be.

Congress sources said the high command is more anxious about a hung verdict in Rajasthan than a fractured mandate in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

They said Sonia has faith in the ability of Digvijay and Ajit Jogi, the chief minister of Chhattisgarh.

Although exit polls have predicted a loss for Digvijay, the sources said Sonia believes the Madhya Pradesh chief minister can rise to the occasion and take the initiative to bolster the party’s legislative support in case of a fractured mandate.

As for Chhattisgarh, where the exit polls showed a close race, the sources said Sonia believes Jogi can do the necessary manoeuvres when the time comes.

In Delhi, the leadership is certain that Sheila Dikshit’s re-election as chief minister is just a formality. Its confidence has been boosted by the exit polls, which predicted a thumping win.

If the Congress is working on alternative plans in Rajasthan, so is the BJP. Its assessment is that parties like the INLD and Independents could play an important role once results are declared.

The BJP’s star strategist, Pramod Mahajan, is understood to have been entrusted with the task of opening a dialogue with INLD leader and Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala.

The Janata Dal (United), in whose favour the BJP left three seats in the southern tribal belt of Wagar, is likely to be another possible partner if the numbers game calls for it.

According to BJP and Congress sources, both parties are ready for any eventuality and determined to form the government.

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