The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Heart aflutter, BJP hugs heartland
Minority appeal: Give us a chance

New Delhi, April 21: Panic is far from the BJP’s mind, but pleased it is not.

As exit poll results suggested little change from the numbers in the outgoing Lok Sabha and, if at all, a dip for the National Democratic Alliance and, at worst, even a hung House, the BJP leadership sat down for stocktaking at 7 Race Course Road.

Apart from the Prime Minister and his deputy, L.K. Advani, party president M. Venkaiah Naidu and poll managers Pramod Mahajan and Arun Jaitley were present at the meeting which decided that the strategy in the coming rounds would be built around Uttar Pradesh.

If the trend suggested by the exit polls for the 140 seats where voting was held yesterday holds, the NDA could end up with 280-odd seats and with 260 in the worst case scenario.

The exit polls, except one, tended to converge on a figure of 80 out of 140 for the NDA, but an internal survey of the BJP was unveiled to claim the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led alliance would tote up 103.

“Our assessment of the trends is encouraging. We are comfortably placed. We reiterate our appeal to the people to give us a decisive mandate, a bigger mandate to help us accomplish many big tasks outlined in the NDA agenda,” Naidu said.

Along with this expression of confidence came an appeal to the minorities to give the party an “opportunity once”.

As part of the party’s efforts to attract minority votes, a group of Muslim leaders from Uttar Pradesh met Vajpayee. Naidu flagged off a yatra the Muslim leaders would undertake intending to cover all constituencies in the state.

Senior leaders Mahajan, Kalyan Singh and Rajnath Singh will spearhead the party’s Mission UP where four helicopters will be pressed into service to ferry star campaigners around. On the ground, RSS cadres will be asked to give the campaign a bigger push.

The meeting at the Prime Minister’s house also decided to focus on Karnataka, where it has done well in the first phase. Naidu has taken charge of Karnataka, which he will tour over the next three days to “bid goodbye to chief minister S.M. Krishna”.

Tamil Nadu and even Bengal are the other focus states. The fact of Bengal, where the party has only two seats, appearing on the BJP’s radar screen might be evidence of the concern exit poll results have caused. It suggests the party believes every seat won or lost might become important at the final count.

It has kept Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan out of this saturation campaign coverage in the belief, possibly well founded, that they are in the bag in any case.

With exit polls indicating a crushing defeat in Telengana, a worried Telugu Desam Party chief . Chandrababu Naidu spoke to Vajpayee to communicate his assessment of the NDA’s prospects in the rest of the state going to the polls on April 26, sources said.

They added that Vajpayee told the leaders to focus on development and maintain decency in campaigning. He asked for reports to be prepared to monitor the situation in each state.

Despite Kalyan Singh’s homecoming and the India Shining campaign, the mood in the Hindi heartland has not been encouraging for the BJP. The sari stampede has introduced an unanticipated complication, as has the decision of Ram Jethmalani to continue in the contest against Vajpayee in Lucknow.

In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamul Congress are the senior partner in the alliance with the BJP, but the party has decided to make an extra effort to make sure that the tally at least does not drop. Trinamul had won nine seats last time and the BJP two. Dramatic changes cannot be expected in this state.

The danger in Tamil Nadu is far greater. In 1999, the NDA had won 26 of the 39 seats. But this time with a formidable DMK-Congress alliance in place, the rival Jayalalithaa-headed coalition, of which the BJP is a part, might lose as many as 10.

On balance, the NDA is seen to be losing more seats than it is gaining, without counting Uttar Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Bihar, Delhi, Haryana and Himachal, its 1999 collection could be eroded by as many as 47, while it may gain about two dozen new seats in the Northeast, Karnataka and a few other states.

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