The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Early poll rolls off Advani tongue
Awaited: NDA rubber stamp

New Delhi/Mumbai, Dec. 30: Lal Krishna Advani today declared early elections, almost.

“By and large, it is correct to state that the results of the recent Assembly elections have had their effect far beyond these (three) states. The economic situation has created a feel-good factor and if these two reasons are combined, it looks like early elections can be good,” the deputy Prime Minister said.

Although there have been hints in the past, Advani’s statement — after a meeting in Mumbai with Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray — is the strongest indication yet that the Lok Sabha polls will be held before the October schedule.

The Sena, which is the third largest constituent of the Vajpayee-led NDA coalition, is the BJP’s oldest ally from crucial Maharashtra, which accounts for 48 seats.

More important, like the Telugu Desam Party, the Sena is pitching for early polls. Advani’s smile after the talk with Thackeray indicated that the Sena chief needed no convincing.

“Advaniji’s views are my views,” Thackeray said.

Advani tempered his enthusiasm by saying a final decision will be taken after consultations with other NDA partners. He said he hoped to get their assessment before the BJP’s national executive meets in Hyderabad on January 11 and 12.

“The main issue is fixing the timing for early polls,” he said

BJP sources said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee might convene a meeting of the NDA after his return from Islamabad. If the Hyderabad meeting votes for an early poll, the sources added, a brief Parliament session will be convened soon after to take a vote-on-account, following which the Prime Minister will recommend the dissolution of Parliament.

Lok Sabha Speaker Manohar Joshi was present when Advani met Thackeray.

Advani claimed that the NDA is headed for a second win. “The general assessment is that the NDA can be reasonably confident of renewing its mandate for another five years.”

Vajpayee and Advani have already secured Desam leader and Andhra Pradesh chief minister . Chandrababu Naidu’s endorsement for an early election. Despite his reservations about holding Lok Sabha and Assembly polls simultaneously two months ago, the BJP’s victory in the elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, combined with the feedback that the Desam itself is not on too good a wicket, caused Naidu to revise his opinion.

Desam sources said Naidu believes he can return for a third term if he can encash on the “feel-good” sentiment for Vajpayee and his government.

BJP sources said the Trinamul Congress leader and minister without portfolio, Mamata Banerjee, too, was sounded on early polls by Advani when she recently called on him.

The NDA convener, George Fernandes, has been taken into confidence, the sources said. Advani is in touch with the Biju Janata Dal leader and Orissa chief minister, Naveen Patnaik.

Another major ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, will have no problems with an early election because of the “political mileage” former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is thought to have gained from his spell in jail after being slapped with corruption charges by his Congress successor Amarinder Singh. “Amarinder has ensured we will get all the Lok Sabha seats in Punjab,” the sources said.

A section of the BJP, however, feels a rushed election may not give the party the time to firm up alliances in states like Bihar and Jharkhand. In Bihar, the assessment is that the BJP-Janata Dal (United) alliance is not “powerful” enough to whip the Laloo Prasad Yadav-Congress combine unless Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party is roped in.

In Uttar Pradesh, the prospect of a Congress-Mayavati alliance is not to the BJP’s “liking” because it will “reduce the index of Opposition disunity”, the sources said.

The other problem areas are the south and Haryana.

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