The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Test for BJP in high-yield zone

New Delhi, May 4: An exit poll-stung BJP’s campaign carpet bombing will be tested in the polls to 30 Uttar Pradesh seats tomorrow, as will be Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s strategy of soliciting minority votes combined with some friendly fire directed at the rival Samajwadi Party.

Also on test, though to a far lesser degree, will be the effectiveness of the Nehru-Gandhi family’s latest flagbearer Rahul Gandhi as a campaigner.

Although polling is being held in 83 seats across seven states, the big battle is in Uttar Pradesh because this is where the BJP stands to win or lose a fair number. It is important also because in the opening round, in which 32 seats in the eastern part went to the polls on April 26, the party was shown in exit polls as not doing too well.

In Bundelkhand in southwest to Avadh in the centre and the Doab region towards the west, which vote tomorrow, the party has juggled caste equations to keep a pan-Hindu identity while taking care not to instigate communal polarisation.

In meeting after meeting, Vajpayee has sent out the message that the BJP is not an anti-minority party. In Calcutta today, he again appealed to the minorities to vote for the BJP.

At the same time, he has tried to take minority votes away from the Samajwadi Party by suggesting that it is “ideologically close” to the BJP, hoping that at least some would go away to the Congress, which he targeted for the bitterest attack.

The other strategy the BJP used was to enlist the resources of the Sangh and replicate the Rajasthan experiment of “micro-management” — successful in last year’s Assembly elections — in constituencies it lost to the Samajwadi Party or the Bahujan Samaj Party narrowly in 1999. Sources said “micro-management” essentially means adding to its caste vote by neutralising competing candidates or propping up those who would bite into the Opposition’s share.

In tomorrow’s round, there are eight seats where winning margins in 1999 were less than 12,000. If the BJP’s strategies work, it could wrest six seats, a number that it would probably not expect in any other state voting tomorrow. If it doesn’t work, it stands to not only not win these six, but also lose two, where its own winning margins in 1999 were narrow.

In Bihar, the party plans to use booth management in a big way by having vigilante committees for every booth to check irregularities as well as record instances of booth-capturing and rigging on the spot so that the Election Commission can act fast.

In this state, however, it is not the BJP so much but ally the Janata Dal (United) that is in the contest in most of the 12 seats in this round.

Of the seven states going to the polls, the BJP has its governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Arunachal Pradesh and is part of the coalition governing Nagaland. Sources said the party is comfortable in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh because the governments there are new and face no anti-incumbency feelings.

But in both, its chances of improvement are narrow because in Rajasthan it already has 16 out of 25 and in Madhya Pradesh it holds nine of the 12 seats where elections will be held tomorrow.

Its stakes in Uttar Pradesh are higher in this round than in the last, and not because fewer seats are going to the polls on May 10. In as many as seven seats voting in the final phase, the BJP’s winning margin was less than 12,000 while the scope for wresting such marginal seats from others is also narrow at only three.

The stakes are equally high for regional players like the Samajwadi Party and the BSP. Mulayam Singh Yadav’s aspirations to play kingmaker, if not the king, depend on whether he can hold on to the 13 seats he won out of the 30 last time.

Not a big actor in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress would be looking to see if the multitudes Rahul pulled in the area from Farukkhabad to Kanpur mean anything by way of votes. In Farukkhabad, its candidate, Louise Khursheed, is locked in a straight fight with Samajwadi Party MP Chandrabhan Singh.

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