The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Naidu picks Sonia origin as poll plank

New Delhi, Dec. 15: Dashing to Delhi to bargain with the BJP, Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu today said that party should pick Sonia Gandhi and development as its twin planks for the general elections.

Amid speculation that a section of the BJP brass favoured early elections, the Telugu Desam Party chief said Sonia’s foreign origin and her Assembly poll failures would combine well with the BJP’s development mantra that won it three states recently.

Naidu, a key ally of the BJP-led Centre, had recently called early elections in Andhra Pradesh and is not averse to simultaneous polls to the Assembly and Parliament. Today, he met Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, his deputy L.K. Advani, BJP chief M. Venkaiah Naidu and a host of ministers and BJP general secretaries.

Sources said early general elections figured in these meetings but the thrust was on seat sharing for the Andhra polls. Naidu is believed to be upset with the BJP demand to double the number of seats he will concede to the party.

In the 1999 poll, Naidu had conceded 25 of the 294 Assembly seats to the BJP, of which it won 12. This time, the BJP wants a minimum of 50 seats though it has begun its haggling game at 100.

Sources said Naidu had told the BJP leaders that he was willing to concede more Lok Sabha seats but the party should not ask for more Assembly seats.

The chief minister had called early elections to cash in on the sympathy wave generated by an assassination attempt on him by Naxalites at Tirupati some time ago. With the wave subsiding and poll surveys painting a grim picture for the Desam, the BJP planks would be beneficial to him.

Naidu, however, clarified he was not against holding talks with the Naxalites. “I am not averse to negotiations with the Naxalites even though they do not believe in elections,” he said.

As the Congress poses a tough challenge in his state, targeting Sonia would further cut into the party morale, already at a low following the drubbing in three states recently.

Besides, continuing with the development plank that reaped dividends in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh could prove a winner.

Naidu said the issue of simultaneous elections did not figure at the meetings. But he had informed the Prime Minister that the Andhra Assembly elections would be held before March 17.

The BJP chief today hosted a luncheon meeting for Naidu at his residence. Four Union ministers — Sushma Swaraj, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajiv Pratap Rudi and Shahnawaz Hussein — attended the meeting. BJP general secretaries Pramod Mahajan, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan and Anita Arya were also present.

Sources said the chief minister demanded a financial package and urged Advani to sanction additional paramilitary forces to tackle extremist violence in his state.

Naidu told reporters he was ready for the Andhra elections any time. He said early general elections, too, were not a bad idea given the spectacular success of the BJP during the last round of Assembly polls. But he added that the Prime Minister’s decision would obviously be final.

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