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|October 9, 1999||
Vajpayee fails in his home state
Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow
The much-talked-about charisma of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, which has the Bharatiya Janata Party knocking at the doors of power once again, seems to have failed completely in his home state of Uttar Pradesh.
The state which played a vital role in bringing the BJP to power in 1998, when 57 of UP's 85 Lok Sabha seats went to the party, got disillusioned with the party some where down the line.
The anger, in fact, was quite evident. "How many times will you ask us to vote in Vajpayee's name? We have given them enough time... we want to see results now,'' said M C Varma, a resident of Lucknow, who claims that he voted for Vajpayee thrice before deciding that enough was enough.
And while the fading Vajpayee charisma did contribute substantially to the party's decline, unabated infighting in the state unit of the BJP and the visible tension between Prime Minister Vajpayee and Chief Minister Kalyan Singh made sure that recovery at any stage was near impossible.
No wonder the BJP's tally is down to a paltry 29 with the party's sworn political foe Samajwadi Party following close behind with as many as 26 seats.
Not only the SP, but even the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress thrived at the BJP's expense in the state. If the SP raised its tally by six, the BSP added as many as 10 to its last score of four and the Congress climbed from zilch to a respectable strength of 10.
"I am quite sure it was neither Mulayam Singh Yadav's charisma nor Mayawati's magic. People simply were disappointed with the performance of the Kalyan Singh government,'' said Surendra Singh, a university professor.
The fact that Vajpayee's own victory margin came down from 2,16,000 in 1998 to 1,23,000 this time proves that he lost favour with the people of Lucknow. On the contrary, the Congress vote in Lucknow rose from a paltry 36,000 in 1998 to 2,39,000 this time.
Quite predictably, virtually every Opposition party benefited from this anger against the BJP. While the Bahujan Samaj Party emerged as the dark horse, Mulayam Singh Yadav's SP sprung a surprise by proving the prophets of doom wrong.
While pollsters had predicted a marginal upward swing for the BSP, almost everyone had written off the SP because of the popular perception that the party's main support base of Muslims had shifted its loyalty to the Congress.
The genesis of this assumption was Yadav's decision not to extend support to the Sonia Gandhi-led coalition after the fall of the Vajpayee government six months back.
To cash in on this Muslim anger against the SP, the Congress had stepped in. The BSP's Mayawati too on her part tried to appease the minority community by awarding a large number of tickets to Muslim candidates.
To the credit of UP Congress chief Salman Khursheed, he succeeded in winning back a large chunk of the Muslims and also in resuscitating the party in the state where it had drawn a blank at the 1998 general election. However, in the absence of an equally vibrant organisational machinery down to the grassroots level, his message could not trickle down to the rural Muslims.
It was Mayawati who managed to break into Mulayam's rural Muslim base. The BSP's active and aggressive electoral machinery succeeded in driving home the message that Muslims must vote for the party that was in a position to defeat the BJP candidates.
The strategy worked as even Chief Minister Kalyan Singh admitted: "Tactical voting by Muslims was one of the key factors behind the losses that the BJP suffered in UP."
While the BJP was looking forward to encashing on the division of Muslim votes between its three rivals -- the SP, the BSP and the Congress -- the tactical voting by the community prevented this split.
Significantly, while both the BSP and the SP have gained substantially in terms of seats, it is the Congress which has emerged as the biggest winner with its vote share going up four per cent to 21 per cent.
But that was not the only feather in the Congress cap. The party's crowing glory was the landslide victory of Sonia Gandhi, who not only defeated her BJP rival Sanjay Singh by a whopping 300,000 votes, but also silenced the BJP's hype against her 'foreign origins'.
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