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|November 24, 1998||
BJP gets the Election Day shivers
George Iype in New Delhi
Fearing setbacks in the election to four assemblies tomorrow, particularly in Delhi and Rajasthan, a jittery Bharatiya Janata Party has begun exploring avenues to keep Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the saddle.
Vajpayee maintained during his campaign that the assembly results would not be a referendum on his government's performance. But the BJP leadership fears a negative verdict could force some of its disparate allies to pull out of the coalition.
Recent opinion polls have indicated that the party could lose two of its strongholds -- Delhi and Rajasthan -- while it is running neck and neck in Madhya Pradesh and has an even chance of seizing power from the Congress there.
BJP politicians believe if an anti-establishment wave were to sweep the party out of Delhi and Rajasthan, allies like the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Trinamul Congress could term it "an anti-BJP vote" and break away from the coalition.
In the past eight months, AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalitha and Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee have threatened to withdraw support to the government on several occasions. Last month, Banerjee pulled out of the coalition's co-ordination committee in protest against the price rise, which has now become the prime issue in the elections.
The AIADMK and the Trinamul Congress together have 25 seats in the Lok Sabha. If they withdraw, the government will be reduced to a minority. And if they decide to support Congress president Sonia Gandhi, a Congress-led government could easily win a majority.
According to senior Trinamul Congress politician Sudip Bandopadhya, MP, the assembly election results will play a crucial role in national politics. "Since Vajpayee's allies are regional parties like us, the state elections are bound to have a bearing on the Centre," he told Rediff On The NeT.
But Bandopadhya said it is too early to predict whether the government would collapse if the BJP lost the polls. "There are other issues like the price rise about which we are more concerned," he said.
But the Congress, anticipating a realignment of political forces after the elections, has been treating them like a mini general election. Party strategists believe that if the BJP fails to retain Delhi and Rajasthan, there is a very real chance of Vajpayee's partners deserting him in the winter session of Parliament, scheduled to begin on November 30, just two days after the results are declared.
"The real problem for the BJP if it is defeated will not be the Congress, but its own allies. We certainly expect that Vajpayee's equations with his coalition partners will change," Pranab Mukherjee, Congress Working Committee member and chairman of the party's campaign committee, told Rediff On The NeT.
But BJP leaders ridicule the contention that the verdict will put a question mark on their government. "We are certain the results will not force our partners from the South or the North to desert us, for the simple reason that we will win the polls," BJP vice-president Jana Krishnamurthy told Rediff On The NeT.
"The Vajpayee government will be intact, whether the BJP wins or loses," he continued. "But the BJP will not be a passive spectator if a power-hungry Congress begins its machinations after the election."
BJP politicians believe that in an attempt to rein in restive allies like the AIADMK and the Trinamul Congress, Vajpayee will carry out the much-waited expansion of his council of ministers immediately after the election.
For the last month, the party has been struggling to overcome the strong anti-incumbency sentiment in Delhi and Rajasthan, primarily on account of the spiralling prices of essential commodities.
Senior BJP politicians now admit that one of their biggest mistakes was the failure to control the campaign agenda. "Our election campaign lacked a spirited theme," a functionary admitted.
So, while Vajpayee harped on the familiar "Congress misrule of 45 years", Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani tried to make l'affaire Romesh Sharma an evocative electoral issue.
Now, with the results almost coinciding with the start of the winter session, many believe the verdict will give the Opposition a chance to force Prime Minister Vajpayee to face his first no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha.
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