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|November 21, 1998||
Hung house may see Congress scurrying for Rajasthan rebels
Amberish K Diwanji in Jaipur
The Congress is likely to seek the support of the rebel candidates who win next Wednesday's Rajasthan assembly election to form the government in the state.
While officially the Congress insists the rebels will have negligible effect, the party nevertheless remains wary that victorious rebels may spoil its chances of forming the next government in the large state. And it is prepared to take their help if needed.
''The party will take the support of the victorious rebel candidates, if necessary, to form the government,'' said a source at the state Congress headquarters in Jaipur. ''If we do not take their backing, then the Bharatiya Janata Party will seek the support of the rebels to form the government and we are determined not to allow that to happen.''
It is the desperation of the Congress to oust the BJP at almost any cost that is apparently inspired the present strategy. Incidentally, at the recent Pachmarhi session, the Congress had declared it would not take any outside support to form the next government at the Centre or in the states. However, ground realities may force the party to bypass that official policy.
''This is our last chance to form the government,'' added the source. ''And we cannot afford to let the BJP wrest the initiative from us.''
However, it is not yet clear whether the party will ask the rebels to become part of the government or seek their support from outside.
The Congress will also seek to justify its change of policy by declaring that the rebels have the popular support and hence the party is only respecting the public's sentiment. This might also help curb resentment within the party at any favoured treatment meted out to the rebels.
Incidentally, the BJP is banking on the rebels to spoil the Congress' chances. BJP general secretary K N Govindacharya, who is in charge of the Rajasthan election, had outlined how the BJP is now neck and neck or slightly ahead of the Congress because of the presence of rebels.
There are over a hundred rebel Congress candidates and the BJP believes that about 40 plus Congress rebels stand a good chance of winning. The BJP is worried about only three or four BJP rebel candidates making it past the post.
While the Congress officially claims it will win between 110 to 120 seats and form the government on its own, the presence of 46 strong rebels may push the final tally down to 90 to 95 seats. Then it might become necessary to take the support of Independents, many of whom might be former Congress members.
The BJP claims it will win 93 seats to the Congress' 92, and will form the government with the support of Independents. Also, Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is reputed to be a shrewd manipulator and in case the BJP prediction comes true, can be expected to pip the Congress and form the next government.
Meanwhile, the Congress sought to justify going for as many as 75 new faces in the election. ''Our analysis of the March 1998 general election showed that the people are willing to accept new candidates rather than the old ones. Hence, we have so many new faces and have also shifted 27 candidates to new constituencies,'' said Congress spokesperson Damodar Thanvi.
Thanvi discounted the effect of the rebels, saying that people would are keen to have a Congress government and will elect only the official candidates. ''The BJP is overplaying the effect of the rebel candidates to suit its own interests. Our survey shows that the rebels may cut into the votes, but not sufficiently to affect our winning chances,'' he declared.
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