The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Unease about numbers on both sides

New Delhi, May 12: In India’s push of a button there is a drama that will be told tomorrow, but the sneak preview has left the protagonists on opposite sides sitting on a time bomb.

An air of nervous expectancy hung over the BJP headquarters as its strategists scaled back projections. One of them admitted “it would be a little difficult securing the number”.

Barely two km away, in the Congress central office, there was cautious optimism as its leaders fed on the Andhra Pradesh success, hoping that it would set the trend for the rest of the country.

Both sides were apprehensive government formation might not be easy, particularly after the Andhra results dented the BJP’s prospects.

With not much activity in public, the BJP spent the day in internal confabulations, starting with a meeting at the Prime Minister’s house.

Pramod Mahajan, the general secretary who was present at the talks, was quoted by PTI as saying: “Because of the result from Andhra Pradesh, it would be a little difficult securing the number. But it won’t be so difficult as to make it impossible to form a government.”

Exit polls had predicted a National Democratic Alliance tally of between 230 at the bottom and 275 at the top. It would appear from the comment that the prospect of the NDA falling short of the half-way mark of 272 is real after the Andhra debacle.

Till about the 250 level, the BJP sees potential allies who would help it rustle up the numbers to meet the gap. Mayavati’s tally is projected to be anywhere between 15 and 20. But she brings with her a long history of instability and tantrums.

Some of the smaller parties, which are outside the NDA, such as the Asom Gana Parishad, the National Conference and the Indian National Lok Dal, would be the other targets of BJP number hunters.

Anything below 250 is dangerous ground for the party because there aren’t too many others that it can hope to win over. Several of its so-called prospective partners have as good as negated the possibility of teaming up.

Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar is one such. “Our policy is absolutely clear, we are not going to associate with the NDA,” he said.

DMK chief M. Karunanidhi said he would not return to the NDA.

Action in the Opposition camp was centred on CPM general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet. After meeting Surjeet, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav shut out the NDA as a post-poll option. The BJP had mentioned his name, too, as a potential ally.

Asked about this possibility, Mulayam snapped: “This amounts to abusing me.”

Sources said the BJP envisages a scenario in which the House will have a reduced strength because of the expected double victories of H.D. Deve Gowda and Nitish Kumar, the death of a BJP candidate from Gonda, countermanding of Chhapra and repoll in three other places.

This effectively shrinks the House of 543 to 536. The sources added that in such a case, the half-way mark will be lower at 268.

In the other camp, with the Congress and its allies projected by exit polls to win between 171 and 205 seats, there was clear realisation that the score would have to be close to the higher figure in order to have a reasonable shy at power. With the Left expected to come up with around 40-45 seats, the group would then be within striking range of 272.

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