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|November 28, 1998||
Stunned BJP struggles to come to terms with rout
George Iype in Delhi
The verdict of the assembly election in Delhi and three states on Saturday has dealt a body blow to the Bharatiya Janata Party and the eight-month-old Atal Bihari Vajpayee coalition government.
While a virtually decimated BJP in Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh looked for answers to many uncomfortable questions, the result led the Congress to ecstacy and hectic planning for the future.
Prime Minister Vajpayee conceded that the election result was a complete surprise, but asserted it would not in any way affect the stability of the government he heads at the Centre.
"Definitely, it is bad news for the party. It is time for us to introspect and find out what caused this defeat," BJP general secretary Narendra Modi, who was in charge of the Madhya Pradesh election campaign, told Rediff On The NeT.
What shocked the BJP leadership on Saturday was not the rout in Delhi and Rajasthan, but in Madhya Pradesh where the party anticipated it would do well and form a government.
Modi said the party never expected the constituencies in the Chhattisgarh region in Madhya Pradesh "to behave in an erratic fashion."
"We thought the anti-incumbency factor would occur in Madhya Pradesh. But unfortunately it did not," the BJP leader admitted.
Shocked by the verdict, senior BJP leaders huddled throughout Saturday to examine reasons for the debacle and chalk out strategies for the Vajpayee government's survival.
BJP strategists conceded that its worst-ever electoral defeat in nine years has been due to three crucial reasons.
First, they said, the party leadership failed to sense that BJP veterans Sunderlal Patwa in Madhya Pradesh and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat in Rajasthan were no longer capable of bringing votes for the party.
Some BJP leaders had questioned the need to go to the polls in both states with the septuagenarian leaders in charge. "It is time the party leadership retired leaders like Shekhawat and Patwa," a young BJP official at the party headquarters said on Saturday.
Second, the BJP leadership now concedes that the spiraling prices of essential commodities and vegetables led the party to lose middle class and lower middle class votes across Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Third, the poll verdict also threw up an unpalatable fact: that the Pokhran nuclear tests have had no effect on the election. "The nuclear bomb brought us zero votes," was a constant refrain at the BJP headquarters after the results flowed in.
The outcome has far-reaching implications for the eight-month-old Vajpayee government.
Sensing the troubles ahead, the prime minister called coalition partners like Samata Party leader George Fernandes, Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde and Akali Dal leader Surjeet Singh Barnala for an hour-long meeting at his Race Course home on Saturday.
Sources said Vajpayee tried to explain how local issues like the price rise were responsible for the verdict and urged the three allies not to read too much into the changed political circumstances.
While no ally has publicly threatened to pull out of the Vajpayee coalition because of the BJP's defeat, political analysts expect it could well happen during the winter session of Parliament, which begins on Monday.
Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Bannerjee has dubbed the poll result as the effect of "the non-governance of the BJP government," while AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalitha will not attend the coordination committee meeting in the capital on Monday.
However, the Congress leadership said on Saturday that it has no plans to move a no confidence motion in Parliament against the Vajpayee government over the assembly verdict.
"The people in four states have taught the BJP leadership an important lesson. We are now waiting for the BJP's coalition partners to teach Prime Minister Vajpayee a lesson or two," Congress secretary and party spokesperson Mani Shankar Aiyar told Rediff On The NeT.
The Congress Working Committee will meet on Sunday to take a series of decisions including the new chief ministers of three states and finalise the party's strategy for the winter session of Parliament.
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