POLL PLAGUE KNOCKS ON ATAL DOOR 

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By FROM OUR BUREAU
  • Published 27.03.02
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New Delhi, March 27 :    New Delhi, March 27:  Election woes swept down on the BJP from the heartland to the capital where the Congress tonight was marching to victory in the Delhi civic polls. Results of the Rajya Sabha elections rubbed more salt into the wound as widespread cross-voting brought out into the open the fissures within not only the BJP but also its partners. BJP legislators broke ranks in Karnataka to ensure the victory of Independent candidate and liquor baron Vijay Mallya. Coalition partner Biju Janata Dal suffered the same fate in Orissa. In Bengal, Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress had to swallow the humiliation of four of its legislators voting for the nominee of the Congress, which lost but managed to claim a "moral victory". The Delhi debacle is the second in quick succession for the ruling party at the Centre after it lost miserably in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections last month, setting off open celebrations in the Congress and not-so-open celebrations in a section of the BJP. In the 134-member Municipal Corporation of Delhi, the Congress has won 95 seats by late tonight when the results of 117 were out. The BJP, which now holds the civic body, bagged only 14 seats. A section of the BJP and Sangh parivar could hardly hide its glee. They privately said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee should "read the signal" from the results as a warning of the consequences of going back on the Hindutva agenda. The state BJP unit has been sharply divided for some time. The Madan Lal Khurana group alleged that the poll outcome was a result of Delhi's influential Punjabi community's disenchantment with the BJP leadership. In customary fashion, a buoyed Congress was quick to attribute the victory to the "mature leadership" of the high command, namely Sonia Gandhi. Party spokesman Jaipal Reddy made a dig at the Prime Minister, saying: "It is a vote against Vajpayee's tired leadership. They (the BJP) sought to make Poto (anti-terror Ordinance) and Gujarat as its poll plank in the MCD polls, but it fell flat." Congress leaders said the result was a demonstration of middle-class outrage against the budget surcharge and price increases. In the 1998 Assembly poll, the BJP had lost Delhi after an extraordinary burst in onion prices across northern India. Congress' victory in the civic polls has come against the tide of so-called anti-incumbency since the Delhi government is also run by the party. The victory brought Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and AICC general secretary Kamal Nath together. They generously complimented each other while Sonia chose to acknowledge both saying it was a "team effort". The Rajya Sabha elections saw the maiden entry of Laloo Prasad Yadav and the return of Congress leader Natwar Singh. Videocon chairman R.N. Dhoot made it to the House, while actor Shatrughan Sinha retained his seat. Stunned by the poll revolt in Karnataka, the BJP expelled the six legislators who voted for Mallya.