The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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300 catches BJP fancy, Cong claims captaincy

New Delhi, May 6: On a high after the latest exit polls, the BJP is looking to clear —“comfortably” — the half-way mark and notch up a total of 300. Not to be outdone in bravado, the Congress sees itself leading a “secular” alternative.

BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu said: “With only the last phase of polling remaining, the outcome of the current elections is now uncontested. The NDA, under the inspiring leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, will run the last mile like a marathon champion and register a record victory. All speculation about this in media and political circles has been set at rest by the trends in yesterday's polling.”

While the Telegraph-STAR News exit poll showed the NDA picking up 53-57 of the 83 seats where elections were held yesterday, the BJP’s internal assessment put the figure at 59-62.

Internal assessment is the oxygen that keeps the Congress going, too. Congress spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy suggested that this stock-taking indicated the party had done well, though the third round exit polls signalled otherwise.

“At the end of the third round of polling and keeping in view the expected trends of voting on May 10, the Congress party is firmly convinced that the people of India have decisively rejected the BJP-led NDA government. A secular, non-NDA government led by the Congress party is now inevitable,” he said.

Current and potential allies might find the statement irksome. But the premature parade of courage about forming a Congress-led government is said to be driven by concerns within the party over prospects in Left-dominated states like Bengal and Kerala.

There are worries that the voter in these states will not see the Congress and the Left as adversaries since the two are quite clearly potential post-poll allies. The impression has demoralised Congress supporters in Kerala and Bengal, a constituency Reddy’s statement could be addressing.

If morale-boosting is the Congress intention, the BJP intends to press forward its third phase “advantage”. It will use “star” campaigners like Sushma Swaraj, Narendra Modi and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi in a big way in Uttar Pradesh.

Naqvi has been told to focus on the Muslim-dominated constituencies of Rohilkhand. Swaraj’s brief is to work to consolidate upper caste votes while Modi will try and do what Kalyan Singh attempted in his heydays: play the backward caste and “Hindutva” cards.

Of the 18 remaining seats in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP has only four.

The party has to reckon with an alliance between the Samajwadi Party and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal which are attempting to bring together Muslims, Jats, Rajputs, Gujjars and Yadavs. Its tentative strategy is to “disturb” the Muslim and Jat votes because they form the spine of this alliance.

Naidu said three factors were working in BJP’s favour: “Good” governance and performance; TINA: There is no alternative to Vajpayee and NDA; and TITA: “Terrible is the alternative”.

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