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July 12, 1999
BJP, Congress to use Kargil as key poll issue
George Iype in New Delhi
As political parties began preparations for the Lok Sabha election on Monday, the Kargil conflict is all set to dominate the poll agenda of both the caretaker Bharatiya Janata Party government and Opposition groups.
While the BJP is sure to project the military and diplomatic victory over Pakistan in Kashmir as its campaigning theme, the Congress, the principal Opposition party, is readying to hold the government responsible for the battle in Kargil.
Both BJP and Congress leaders have already announced that the election issue will be Kashmir, not Congress president Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin that dominated the political scene some two months ago.
BJP general secretary M Venkiah Naidu said his party is not for proclaiming India's victory in Kashmir as an election issue. "But certainly it has become a major success story for the government. India stood united in the fight against Pakistan infiltrators under the leadership of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee," he toldrediff.com
"Vajpayeeji's ability and leadership qualities have been unique in such critical times that there is no comparison between him and any other Opposition aspirants as the next prime minister," the BJP leader said.
Therefore, Naidu continued, the BJP is confident that the National Democratic Alliance will emerge victorious with a clear majority.
BJP leaders admit that the crisis in Kargil ended decisively in favour of India in the nick of time. "If Pakistan had refused to withdraw the intruders and prolonged the conflict, it would have led to anti-BJP sentiments across the country during the election," a BJP official remarked.
He claimed the BJP has been "lucky" that Pakistan began withdrawing the forces on Sunday, the day the election schedule was announced.
The BJP is also now doubly happy that after the collapse of its coalition government in April, Congress president Sonia Gandhi failed to form an alternative government. They believe that had she cobbled together a coalition and managed the Kargil crisis, the ousted BJP coalition would have been blamed for the conflict.
On the alliance front, the leadership is pleased with the "unity" in the National Democratic Alliance. Vajpayee, party president Shashikant 'Khushbhau' Thakre and Home Minister and BJP election cell chief L K Advani will hold a series of meetings with regional allies to further cement the ties.
On the cards is a crucial alliance with the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, led by Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu.
"We have proved our nationalism in Kargil. The sentiments of the people are now with us and the votes will swing in our favour," claimed a BJP election cell official.
The Congress leadership, thus, is under tremendous pressure to produce an issue that could defeat the BJP.
The Congress and other Opposition parties have supported the Vajpayee government's war efforts in the last seven weeks. The only way they can beat the BJP now, they believe, is by convincing the electorate that the conflict erupted due to massive government blunders.
"It is tragic that the government is now claiming credit for the victory in Kargil. Now that the conflict is nearing an end militarily, the Vajpayee government has to answer the people how and why it failed to prevent infiltration into Indian territory," Congress leader Shivraj Patil said.
Patil said the BJP claims credit for Pakistan's decision to pull out militants and asked, "Who will answer for the hundreds of soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the war?"
Many political observers believe the BJP is better placed than the Congress in terms of poll alliances and issues.
Since her attempts to lead an alternative government failed two months ago, Sonia has been unable to chalk out the contours of an election alliance with various regional players. The party is in serious trouble in key states like Maharashtra after Sharad Pawar walked out to form the Nationalist Congress Party. Sonia is yet to strike an electoral pact with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu and the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar, they point out.
Congress sources disclosed that the talks with AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalitha and RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav have been "humiliating experiences" as these regional players are willing to spare only a handful of seats for the party.
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