The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal challenger eludes Opposition
Big guns face token fight

New Delhi, March 11: The National Democratic Alliance’s big guns have little reason to worry since their electoral opponents seem unwilling to put up a common candidate against Atal Bihari Vajpayee or his senior colleagues.

As a result, the Prime Minister may face only a token fight in Lucknow unlike the 1999 Lok Sabha elections.

The CPM is the only major Opposition party still trying to put up a consensus candidate against the NDA top brass — the Prime Minister, his deputy, the defence minister and the human resource development minister. The Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party are not keen on fielding a common candidate.

The Samajwadi and the BSP have their own reasons for wanting to bail out Vajpayee, L.K. Advani, George Fernandes and Murli Manohar Joshi. But a similar understanding between these outfits to make things easier for their party chiefs, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayavati, respectively, is a long way off.

Five years ago, the Congress’ Karan Singh had given Vajpayee some anxious moments — the Prime Minister triumphed by 1.5 lakh votes, almost a lakh fewer than his 1998 winning margin.

The BJP seems unlikely to return the favour by sparing Sonia Gandhi. In 1999, the BJP fielded Sushma Swaraj, its most vocal woman leader, against the Congress president at Bellary. Swaraj even tried to woo voters with a smattering of Kannada, but to no avail.

The party may not try to make things easier for Sonia, given the hostility of the Sangh parivar and NDA convener Fernandes towards the Gandhis.

The most surprising call to spare a political rival came today from the Laloo Prasad Yadav-led Rashtriya Janata Dal. The RJD wants to ensure that Manohar Joshi, the outgoing Lok Sabha Speaker, is re-elected from his Mumbai north-central seat without a contest so as to “set a healthy precedent”.

RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh said he had spoken to his party chief about this. Laloo Prasad, whose party has a presence in Mumbai, will speak to the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress about Joshi’s seat. It is not known if the Shiv Sena, to which the Speaker belongs, will respond in kind.

As of now, even Congress functionaries are not sure where Sonia will contest from — Amethi, Bellary or Rae Bareily. There had been speculation that Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her brother Rahul may contest from Amethi or Rae Bareily, but their mother scotched the rumours.

But sources said the BSP and the Samajwadi may put up just a token fight against Sonia. Mayavati has finalised 70 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, leaving four to five seats for the Congress, just in case the Gandhis’ GeneratioNext decides to contest.

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