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Since 1st March, 1999
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Scorcher in early summer
Atal sets end-April date for new govt

Hyderabad, Jan. 12: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee ended the suspense over the timing of the Lok Sabha elections when he told the BJP national executive today: “I hope that a new government would be in place by April-end.”

Sources said Vajpayee’s statement implied that the elections could be phased between end-March and the first week of April to allow an interregnum of about two weeks for government formation.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu quoted Vajpayee as saying that the process of elections should be completed and a new government put in place by the end of April.

Vajpayee set the tone and pace for the battle ahead by telling his party: “There is no time for vishram (rest). Ek vijay ke baad dusra. Hamare vijay ke saath Bharat ka bhavishya juda hua hai (One victory will follow another. The destiny of India is linked to our victory).”

He asked finance minister Jaswant Singh to take a vote-on-account in Parliament at an early date. BJP sources said it could happen next week. Parliamentary affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was told to finalise the date to hold a special sitting of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to pass the vote-on-account.

It is still not certain when the Prime Minister would recommend dissolution of the House: before he attends a summit (of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation) at Phuket from February 8 to 10 or after. Sources said: “He could do it before the summit which is not like Saarc. He could go there as a caretaker Prime Minister.”

It is believed that Vajpayee would like to wait for the new chief election commissioner to take over from the incumbent, J.M. Lyngdoh, who retires on February 7, before recommending dissolution. A 45-day period is required to conduct polls from the date of notification.

The BJP, which went into election gear from December 4 when it swung three of the four states where polls were held, began fine-tuning its strategies for the big fight as soon as the Prime Minister’s word was out on the election date.

Naidu appointed one of his general secretaries, Pramod Mahajan, as the chairman of the ombudsman campaign committee, which will oversee the management. Former BJP treasurer Ved Prakash Goyal was asked to “mobilise resources” while commerce and law minister Arun Jaitley was nominated as the convener of a committee to prepare a “vision document” that will spell out the party’s policies for the next five years.

In his address, Vajpayee said: “The party has made its recommendation in an unambiguous manner that we should seek the people’s renewed mandate at the earliest.”

The Prime Minister added: “The recent NDA meeting authorised me to take a final decision about advancing the elections. Now the responsibility is mine. The NDA is ready. The BJP is ready. The hour of decision has come. The decision can be only one.”


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