After the seats, search for chairs
Double salute for economy
Mamata in early Assembly poll cry
Shutout Laloo shuts himself in
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, Oct. 7 
The BJP-led alliance has cruised to a comfortable victory, winning 293 seats in the 13th Lok Sabha.

But despite the veneer of stability which the numbers provide, Atal Behari Vajpayee?s problems with government formation have already begun.

The BJP?s main worry is the reluctance of the Telugu Desam to join the government, though it has agreed to be part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). BJP sources said Chandrababu Naidu was likely to attend the first post-poll meeting of the NDA tomorrow but the odds on him joining the government are even.

The Desam, which made a clean sweep of Andhra Pradesh, picking up 30 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, is the second largest block in the NDA after the BJP. Its refusal to join the ministry may take away from the stability and credibility of the Vajpayee government.

Sources said Naidu had decided before the elections that if the Desam did not perform spectacularly, he would consider joining the NDA government. But if the party did well, he would opt to stay out of the government and extract concessions without having a direct stake in its survival.

Vajpayee began the exercise of government formation in earnest today by holding informal consultations with senior BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani, Kushabhau Thakre, K.N. Govindacharya, M. Venkaiah Naidu, Narendra Modi, Jana Krishnamurthy and Pramod Mahajan.

The Prime Minister has called a meeting of the NDA at noon tomorrow. BJP sources said both the Desam and Trinamul Congress, which had supported the outgoing government from outside, have been invited. So has the National Conference, which was not part of the ruling coalition but bailed it out through its periodic crises.

?The idea is to coopt all the regional parties with whom we either had an open alliance or a tactical understanding in the polls,? a source said.

Sources said the NDA meeting, originally planned for Sunday, has been brought forward to help Vajpayee get an idea of the expectations of his allies, besides taking stock of the results.

Though the BJP officially claimed the government formation would be ?smooth?, sources said the possibility of crucial allies like DMK and Janata Dal (United) making a bid for plum ministerial berths had already begun to weigh down Vajpayee.

The Shiv Sena, which lay low after the debacle in the 1998 elections, is expected to flex its muscles this time round.

BJP sources also said the Bihar contingent of Janata Dal (U) might revive its long-standing demand for dismissal of the Rabri Devi government.

Today?s 45-minute meeting at the Prime Minister?s residence discussed the agenda for a formal meeting of the BJP office-bearers on Saturday, sources said.

The talks are expected to continue right through Sunday when the BJP parliamentary party will meet in the morning to elect its leader. The NDA MPs will gather the same evening to formally elect the leader of the alliance, after which the coalition will stake its claim to form the government.

As the trends established an invincible lead for the NDA, BJP spokesman M. Venkaiah Naidu said: ?We are happy that the NDA led by Atal Behari Vajpayee has been voted back to power and the main conspirators of the destabilisation move have been punished.?

While the BJP revelled in its victory, the Sonia Gandhi-led Congress was stunned by its worst-ever rout in a parliamentary election. Though the Congress made gains in Karnataka, Punjab, Kerala and Uttar Pradesh, these were offset by losses in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.

In a written statement, the Congress president said: ?The result of the Lok Sabha elections has not come up to our expectations and the party has suffered reverses. At the same time, it has also gained support in some areas and our share of the vote has risen.?

Unlike in 1996 and 1998, when Congress chiefs P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri quit after the party?s poor showing, there is no apparent threat to Sonia Gandhi?s leadership at the moment for want of a viable alternative.

The real surprise of the election was Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP had to reckon with an all-time bad performance. The party won only 29 seats, down from 57 last time.

Questions are being raised about the alleged rebellion by chief minister Kalyan Singh. While Advani asserted today he would not be replaced, the chief minister?s detractors have already arrived in the capital to press for his removal.

It is not the Congress so much as the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which benefited from the anti-BJP wave in the state. The Samajwadi Party has come a close second with 26 seats and the BSP has picked up 14 seats.

BSP leader Mayavati, who won from Akbarpur, said: ?We have been the biggest gainer of the Congress? revival in Uttar Pradesh, because it has cut into the votes of the BJP and the Samajwadi Party.?

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif congratulated Vajpayee for the NDA?s victory. ?I congratulate him (Vajpayee) for winning the elections,? he said. Asked if the Kargil chapter was put on the backburner, he said: ?the point has now become old and new questions have emerged.?    

Mumbai, Oct. 7 
The Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) sensitive index zoomed to a historic high of 4985.15 in a 265.4-point gain as the ballot count made it clear that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance would return to power.

The 30-scrip index opened sharply higher at 4816.11 points over Wednesday?s close of 4697.70. By 1:40, the sensex hit its intra-day high of 4985.15 as investors stampeded into the market before closing a shade lower at 4963.10 compared with its previous finish of 4697.70. Stocks sizzled as marketmen felt the next government would last its full term.

Later in the day, reports that Moody?s Investors Service, the international credit rating agency, had upgraded India?s outlook from stable to positive, provided a further thrust to the bull-run.

Unit Trust of India chairman P. Subramanyam welcomed Moody?s revision in India?s outlook, saying the long-awaited move would help India attract foreign investment and make foreign loans cheaper for domestic firms.

?The mandate received by NDA will help the new government push through reform initiatives. The FIIs will be encouraged by Moody?s new outlook,? he said.

Ficci chief Sudhir Jalan said the stage is set for an NDA government which is crucial to carrying forward the reforms process. ?It is good that the previous government had forged a consensus on the issue of reforms. The implementation of these policies now is only a logical corollary.?    

Calcutta, Oct. 7 
If elections to the West Bengal Assembly were to take place on Sunday, would challenger Mamata Banerjee?s Trinamul Congress and its ally BJP snap up as many as 190 seats and put the ruling communists into a tailspin ?

Mamata and her running mates said on Thursday that there are no two minds about such a high tally, emphasising that they led the race in 190 assembly segments between them in Sunday?s elections.

?We feel tremendously encouraged to press the ruling communists to hold an early Assembly election,? Mamata said.

The results of the election showed the Left Front leading with 29 seats, including 21 belonging to the overlord CPM, followed by Trinamul with eight, the BJP two and the Congress three.

Though the CPM and its allies watched with dismay the Trinamul-BJP alliance?s penetration into their strongholds in South Bengal, they were quick to contest its claim about 200 Assembly segments.

?We are disturbed by the unexpected defeat of a few Left candidates and the rise in the alliance?s seats and share of votes,? said Anil Biswas, secretary of the state CPM and a politburo member.

?But the leads in so many assembly segments they are talking about are misleading. If they were real, then 190 segments, at the rate of seven to a Parliamentary constituency, should have given them at least 27 seats in Parliament. How come they got only eight and two??

Biswas and Biman Bose, another politburo member who oversaw the Front?s campaign, felt the Trinamul-BJP alliance was making the claim on the assumption that the pattern of voting seen would repeat itself in a linear fashion in the Assembly election.

?In Bengal , the voter has always been driven by separate sets of issues, emotions, compulsions and priorities ,? they said, ? so he does not cast his ballot in a uniform fashion.?

However, hard the CPM and others in the Front tried to explain away the upsets they suffered courtesy of Mamata, chief minister Jyoti Basu accorded respectability to the Trinamul-BJP combine by urging his men to take lessons for the future.

?It?s time we were more cautious in our approach. We lost two important seats to them,? Basu said at the CPM headquarters. ?Our immediate task is to find out what went wrong with our candidates and take corrective steps in the areas concerned.?

The CPM state committee is meeting on October 14 to assess the reasons for the alliance?s rise in rural Bengal. ?We must go back to the people,? said Sailen Dasgupta, Left Front chairman.    

Patna, Oct. 7 
Laloo raj is in the throes of death in Bihar; the people have finally messed the messiah who failed to deliver. The Rashtriya Janata Dal has been routed, its debacle crowned by Laloo Yadav?s own defeat at the hands of Sharad Yadav in Madhepura. The man once considered invincible in the state has been crippled to a single-digit presence in the Lok Sabha, his ally, the Congress, barely able to limp.

The Lok Sabha disaster is bound to cast its shadow on the assembly. State elections are only months away but Laloo may find himself undone even earlier. Chances are that desertions from the sinking RJD ship will soon begin, undoing Rabri Devi?s tenuous majority in the assembly. It may not take another bid from the Centre to impose President?s Rule in Bihar; Rabri, and Laloo, may lose their flanks on their own.

Normally a gregarious open-house keeper, Laloo put out the lights and shut the gates on his wife and chief minister Rabri Devi?s 1 Anne Marg residence in West Patna as the bad news began pouring in from all parts of Bihar. It was bad enough that the RJD-Congress alliance was being worsted statewide; the reversal from Madhepura was the last nail. The Yadav protagonist has lost in in the Vatican of Yadavdom: Madhepura.

?Rome Pope ka, Saharsa Gope Ka,? they say in Bihar to underline Yadav supremacy in the Madhepura belt; Yadav supremacy remained Madhepura?s truth but not Laloo supremacy. Another Yadav won it by a margin of 30,219: Sharad.

A hungry wolf-pack of journalists was pushing all day at the gates of Laloo?s lonely mansion but the lion on Bihar was busy getting bearded in his own den. He wouldn?t emerge. Confidant and RJP spokesman Shivanand Tiwari, himself defeated from Buxar, made an attempt of sorts to drag Laloo out but roared out within minutes of entering the solitary sanctum. Shivanand rushed out, redfaced, and left without even bothering to inform mediapersons whether Laloo was ready to emerge. ?Lalooji did not even talk to him for too long, he is in no mood,? said an insider.

In victory, Laloo has been a magnanimous host; in defeat today, he became almost a rude recluse with his tail stuck firmly between his hind legs. ?He is avoiding even everybody?s shadow now,? said a 1 Anne Marg loyalist, ?the defeat has left him stunned.?

The writing, however, has been emblazoned on the wall for Laloo Yadav and his cahoots to read: the RJD was not only reaping diminishing returns for its non-performance during the last decade in Bihar, the alliance of social forces against him this time was too strong to hold back. The Laloo-myth has been blown partly because of his own misdemeanour, partly because of the index of unity against him. For the first time during this election an effective combination of upper caste, backward and dalit votes was working against him. Perhaps Ram Vilas Paswan?s aggressive campaign against Laloo and his ability to transfer wean away large sections of the dalit vote against him became the RJD supremo?s ultimate undoing.

In Madhepura, of course, Sharad Yadav was even able to split the Yadav votebank and take the seat away from Laloo. Widespread disenchantment with Laloo in Madhepura was evident even during the campaign. While Laloo had been reduced to apologising to the electorate for having ignored its interests, Sharad Yadav led a lightning campaign drawing huge crowds throughout. There were other early clues to Laloo?s troubles in Madhepura: the Yadavs were openly speaking against him and leaders like Paswan and George Fernandes, who were militantly calling for Laloo?s defeat, were popular draws.

But the anti-Laloo sentiment was pervasive, and palpable, statewide during the campaign. And it was, unlike previous elections, not just a middle-class/upper caste sentiment. Other backward communities like Kurmis and Koeris and, more important, the dalits had turned firmly against him. Their grouse: Laloo promised much but delivered little. Worse, by installing Rabri Devi in the post-fodder scam phase, he had proved himself to be a desperate power-seeker, just like his many predecessors.

During the last ten years of Laloo rule, Bihar has slid steadily down the dark pit. Law and order has become virtually non-existent, development has been at a standstill, even the so-called beneficiaries of social justice have not really benefitted. But for a section of privileged Yadavs, none got to taste the fruits of power. On the other hand, dalits continued to suffer upper caste ire (the repeated massacres in Central Bihar) and general indifference. But for a few symbolic measures ?- the now-defunct Charvaha schools and the dalit housing projects ?- the Laloo regime did not make a difference to the lives of people in whose name it ruled Bihar unchallenged for a decade.

If there is a lesson Laloo Yadav can learn, it is perhaps from Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh: a chief minister who promised to work and worked and fetched the results Laloo can now only dream of.    

Temperature: Maximum: 33.0?C (+1) Minimum: 25?C (0) Rainfall: 0.1 mm Relative humidity: Maximum: 95%, Minimum: 84% Today: The sky on Friday will remain partly cloudy. The weatherman sees the possibility of a thundershower towards the afternoon or evening.. Sunset: 5.16 pm Sunrise: 5.34 am    

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