The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Pawar keeps BJP guessing

New Delhi, Dec. 3: Will Sharad Pawar enter the NDA via Chhattisgarh' This question is exercising the BJP as the countdown to the Assembly election outcome started today.

Pawar and the role of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) he heads could be crucial in Chhattisgarh if the results yield a hung Assembly, which BJP sources say is a “distinct possibility”.

They, however, feel that Vidya Charan Shukla, the former Congress stalwart who heads the Chhattisgarh NCP, may insist on the chief minister’s chair for himself as a precondition though he did not contest the polls.

This caveat reportedly does not find favour with an influential section of the central BJP and the Chhattisgarh unit. A central leader argued: “It is illogical to expect a party that is likely to get only five or six seats to head a coalition in which the larger party, with possibly 35 to 40 seats, will have to play second fiddle. It flies in the face of political rationale.”

He pointed out that in the states where the BJP went in for a coalition — Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, for instance — the partner was a party which had more seats (the Shiv Sena) or stood a “close second” as was the case with the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh.

Although Chhattisgarh leaders have been told to start speaking to Shukla about a post-poll arrangement, the mood, said sources, was “for having a BJP chief minister”.

With Dilip Singh Judeo being ruled out because of the CBI probe into the cash-on-disc scam involving him, the party is considering the names of central minister Ramesh Bais and Chhattisgarh party president Raman Singh.

“Neither is a tribal (the dominant social group in the state) but between the two, Bais has a stronger social base by virtue of being an OBC. But Raman Singh is more amicable and has the ability to take people along,” a BJP source said, adding that the “pros and cons were being weighed.”

Pawar is believed to be keen on an NCP-BJP tie-up in Chhattisgarh despite the fact that his party is part of a Congress coalition government in Maharashtra. Highly placed BJP sources revealed that Pawar had recently even expressed willingness to part ways with the Congress and form a “grand” BJP-Sena-NCP coalition in Maharashtra. But Sena chief Bal Thackeray would not brook the idea.

“Balasaheb cannot emotionally digest Pawar. He probably fears that if he comes in, he would re-enact the Arab and the camel fable and squeeze the Sena out of any coalition arrangement. He is scared that the BJP may ditch the Sena because some of our leaders are close to Pawar,” one source said.

There is also a perception that since the BJP-Sena is “poised to sweep the Maharashtra polls whenever they are held”, there was no rationale in co-opting an “unpredictable” ally like Pawar.

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