Back to Atal in close call
Mamata tastes rural success
Tired Basu wants out
Calcutta weather

New Delhi, Oct. 6 
Atal Behari Vajpayee is set to become Prime Minister again but the verdict for the 13th Lok Sabha saddles him with verily the same problems that dogged him in the 12th.

The emerging face of the new Lok Sabha is, in fact, eerily akin to its shortlived predecessor: the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is heading for a onion-peel majority, the Congress and its allies are not likely to make major overall gains and the other parties have belied forecasts to retain a significant presence in the lower house. Power remains precariously balanced.

The NDA is now projected to bag about 280-290 seats in the Lok Sabha, the Congress and its allies about 160-170 and the other parties around 100 seats.

The BJP leadership is meeting here tomorrow afternoon to take stock of the results and a meeting of the NDA is scheduled for Friday, where the preliminaries of government formation are likely to be discussed. This is where the problems for Vajpayee are likely to begin: he has more allies, and more political egos, to take care of than ever before.

Apart from having a slender majority, Vajpayee is likely to be more dependent on strong regional allies who are, in the main, responsible for providing the advantage of numbers to the BJP.

The BJP and its allies have scored major gains in Delhi, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana and Tamil Nadu but substantial losses in key strongholds like Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka have neutralised them. The Congress has virtually swept Punjab and made the best of a fatal last-minute alliance struck by the BJP with the Janata Dal in Karnataka.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP appears to have been worsted by a combination of forces: the Congress, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have all taken a toll on a faction-ridden state BJP, the BSP making the most startling inroads according to initial trends.

The antipathy towards chief minister Kalyan Singh, at the popular level and within the BJP organisation, appears to have worked strongly against the party. But the surprise gainer of the anti-Kalyan feeling is the BSP, which is leading in as many as 14 Lok Sabha seats.

Explanation of the BSP?s success in UP must await detailed results but it appears that the party has been able to combine dalit and Muslim votes more successfully than the SP (although it appears to be holding its own) and the Congress. Surprisingly, the BJP was doing better than expected in the hill districts, establishing leads in two of the four Lok Sabha seats.

The results from Bihar, the second-largest contributor to the Lok Sabha, were slow in coming but first trends pointed to a neck-and-neck race between the Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress alliance and the BJP-Janata Dal (U) combine. The BJP-JD(U) alliance had made claims of a two-thirds win in Bihar but the redoubtable Laloo Yadav may yet hold his own in the state. Finance minister Yashwant Sinha and defence minister George Fernandes were leading from Hazaribagh and Nalanda respectively, but Nitish Kumar was trailing from Barh in central Bihar. Former test cricketer Kirti Azad had established an early lead over veteran RJD rival M.A. Fatmi from Darbhanga.

The Congress, though pleased about its resurgence in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka, is preparing for another outing in the Opposition benches. But the party is still high on hope that Vajpayee will be unable to keep his unprecedented coalition together for very long. Perhaps the worst blow to the Congress was dealt by Sharad Pawar?s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP-Shiv Sena is riding high on the Congress-NCP split in Maharashtra and coasting to a victory it could not have dreamt of if Pawar had remained with the Congress.

Another trend that would worry the Congress is that it has done badly wherever it is in power ?- Delhi, Rajasthan, Orissa and even Digvijay Singh?s Madhya Pradesh have thrown up disappointing results for the party. Although the Congress was leading in 14 seats in Madhya Pradesh ?- a gain of three ?- Digvijay Singh admitted the performance was below par. ?We were expecting to take anything between 20-25 seats. So I have to say we are disappointed,? Digvijay Singh said.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee won Lucknow defeating Karan Singh of the Congress by a drastically reduced margin of one lakh plus votes. In Bellary, Congress president Sonia Gandhi defeated Sushma Swaraj by over 50,000 votes.

Other prominent winners include Lal Krishna Advani (BJP-Gandhinagar), Raj Babbar (SP-Agra), Mamata Banerjee (TC-South Calcutta) and Murli Manohar Joshi (BJP-Allahabad). The notable losers were Manmohan Singh (Cong -South Delhi), T.N. Seshan (Cong-Gandhinagar), Kishanlal Sharma (BJP-Chandigarh), Bhajan Lal (Cong- Karnal) and Sukhbir Singh Badal (Akali Dal-Faridkot).

The NDA is reaching the majority mark, thanks essentially to regional allies, whose preponderance in government is likely to increase and become an issue of friction with the BJP. In the South and the East, the BJP rode piggyback on its allies to bolster its tally.

The Trinamul Congress and the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) looked set to make gains in West Bengal and Orissa, whereas in Andhra and Tamil Nadu, state-level incumbents Chandrababu Naidu and M. Karunanidhi held off any anti-incumbency factor.

In Andhra, in particular, Chandrababu Naidu has proved many a pundit wrong and appears headed for a runaway victory in the assembly. The BJP-NDA alliance is also outflanking the Congress in the Lok Sabha polls.

In Tamil Nadu, the performance of the DMK-BJP alliance is less spectacular; Jayalalitha?s ADMK put up stiff resistance, even enabling the CPM to open its account in the state from Madurai.    

Calcutta, Oct. 6 
Challenger Mamata Banerjee?s Trinamul Congress tonight burst through the confines of the city to penetrate some of the ruling communists? hitherto invincible rural south Bengal bailiwicks, after sweeping all three parliamentary seats in Calcutta.

It also cornered glory by snapping up in a photo-finish the Shyampukur Assembly seat in north Calcutta, for 37 years a pocketborough of the Forward Bloc, a Front constituent. ?It?s a well deserved bonus for us,? Trinamul leader Mamata Banerjee said.

The BJP also displayed unexpected staying power, beating back the communists? attempt to regain Dum Dum and surging ahead in Krishnagar, a red bastion.

In the long term, Mamata and the BJP, no doubt, will capitalise on the current success in the Assembly elections slated for 2001.

In the short term, Mamata is expected to use it to drive a hard bargain with the BJP at the Centre and get as many important ministries as possible. ?Our performance reflects the growing popular trust in our abilities. We will now participate in a central government to remake Bengal,? Mamata said .

On a day which witnessed dramatic swings in fortunes, Trinamul was appreciably ahead of the CPM in Hooghly, where Roopchand Pal is trailing by 15,000 ballots, and Nabadwip? the home district of state CPM secretary Anil Biswas, where Asim Bala was down by 30,000 ballots.

A cliff-hanger seems to be underway in Katwa, another red bastion, and Contai. Going by the trends, the Trinamul-BJP tally might increase by three to four to rest at 11 or 12, up from its present combined strength of 8. Together with the underdog Congress? likely victory in a couple of seats, the overall Opposition tally might settle at 13.

The only setback to Trinamul appears to be shaping up in Howrah, where the CPM was leading by nearly 40,000.

For the communists, the fortunes appear to have miraculously swung in their favour in Malda, a traditional Congress bastion where its lone sitting MP, ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury, considered invincible, is trailing.

The trends indicate a sort of comeback for the Congress which Mamata had all but liquidated in the 1998 election.

If Malda is a worry, the Congress can draw solace from the leads being enjoyed by its two nominees, Adhir Chakraborty and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, in Berhampur and Raigunge.

Chief minister Jyoti Basu told The Telegraph the CPM and its allies? performance was ?satisfying because we were able to hold on to our rural bases?.

Basu?s optimism ? despite the Trinamul?s advances in rural south Bengal ? springs from the fact that the leads, in many constituencies very small, might get reversed as the counting progresses overnight.    

Calcutta, Oct. 6 
West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu leaves for Delhi tomorrow to seek retirement from politics.

Basu will formally ask the CPM politburo for permission to retire. He said here tonight he wanted to call it a day before the Assembly polls slated for 2001.

?I am ageing as well as ailing. Mine is a long stint in politics spanning a little over 60 years. It is time for some young blood to take over,? he said.

Asked if he had chosen his successor, Basu said: ?In our party, an individual does not matter much. Instead, the organisation is of utmost importance. And I hope the party is capable enough to choose my successor.?

For the last two years, Basu has been urging the party to relieve him. This is the first time, however, that Basu himself has announced his intention on record to a newspaper. He had talked of it in private earlier.

?The retirement issue has been on the party?s agenda since the 16th congress in Calcutta in October last year. But I have been continuing as no alternative arrangement could be made. Now the party should seriously think about my replacement considering my age and health. I am definitely not growing young,? Basu said.

Basu did not want to pre-empt what the politburo might decide. But he made it clear that in the past he had abided by the party?s decision on his career. This time though he seems determined to have his way.

?I am not even interested in joining the fray from Satgachia Assembly seat during the 2001 polls in West Bengal,? Basu said. He said he had conveyed the decision to the party.

The chief minister is 86 and has been suffering from age-related ailments.

Basu said that during his visit to Delhi from tomorrow, he would talk to CPM central leaders about ?my retirement?. He would also take up the matter with state leaders on his return.

He is slated to attend a CPM politburo meeting on Friday.

The chief minister said he was still suffering from backache despite undergoing treatment in London last year.

?It is a problem associated with age. It cannot be treated successfully overnight... after running the administration for 23 long years, I am feeling tired and exhausted. I need rest,? Basu said.    

Temperature: Maximum: 28.4?C (-4) Minimum: 24.2?C (-1)

Rainfall: 71.4 mm

Relative humidity:

Maximum: 100%, Minimum: 81%

Today: Thursday threatens a return to the umbrella. More showers are likely,and even a thundershower or two in some areas.

Sunset: 5.17 pm Sunrise: 5.33 am    


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