The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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For Congress, poll no longer a bogey
Survey keeps party upbeat

New Delhi, Aug. 22: The government and the Left are waiting for the other side to come up with a proposal to find a middle ground on the nuclear deal but the Congress has drawn the parameters within which it wants negotiations to be held, sources said.

The deal is non-negotiable and anti-Americanism is the Left’s own business, party sources said.

The seemingly tough stand is being attributed to a party assessment that an election could help the Congress improve its tally and hurt the Left.

Although the CPM central committee is expected to endorse the harsh stand adopted by the politburo, Congress leaders said their reading was that the Left was more keen to find a way out of the logjam.

The Congress has also told UPA allies, including some reluctant to hit the poll trail, that if push came to shove, they should be ready for elections.

The Congress’s buoyancy, the sources said, was based on a cost-benefit analysis of whether it stood to benefit more from seeking a fresh mandate than keeping afloat a government on the Left’s “whims and fancies”.

The sources claimed that over the last few months, the party’s strategists had carried out a state-wise analysis to make a projection if general elections were held in the next six months. The conclusion was that the Congress would make gains, “perhaps not spectacular but gains all right”, a source said.

Besides, the Congress feels that the Left’s numbers would decline. The Left had swept Kerala in 2004 and, given the unparalleled feud in the CPM in the southern state and the cyclical nature of political fortunes there, an encore is not expected if polls are held.

The Congress also hopes to pick up more seats in Karnataka — where the BJP-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance is shaky — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh,Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh to make good the expected losses in Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.

In Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the party is confident of retaining its tally. In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is a bit player.

However, Bihar, where the RJD-Congress alliance did remarkably well in 2004, is an area of concern and Lalu Prasad is not keen on early polls.

The Congress is drawing comfort from a perception in the political establishment that the NDA had not got its act together and the BJP was too caught up in intra-party problems to focus on campaign themes and strategy. As for the third front, barring the Telugu Desam Party which could pull off a comeback, no party is on a strong wicket.

A senior party leader summed up the Congress’s position: “If a solution emerges from talks, well and good. We are clear that we want to keep good relations with the US because we have to deal with neighbours like China and Pakistan. But if a solution is elusive, we are ready for elections. It’s for them (the Left) to answer why elections were brought about.”

Pointing out that there was no need for haste, the sources said they expected the process to move forward after the CPM central committee made its decision known tomorrow. Sonia Gandhi will return from South Africa on August 24. The Congress Working Committee could meet over the weekend to consider the next move.

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