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December 31

CWC targets Kesri
Less than 24 hours after Sonia Gandhi decided to campaign for the Congress, the party witnessed a flurry of activity that bodes ill for its president Sitaram Kesri. Senior Congress Working Committee members met on Tuesday, ostensibly to seal Kesri's fate.

Sonia's move sparks panic in UF, BJP
Both the UF and the BJP have put up a brave front, claming that it will not affect their electoral prospects. But their quiet initiatives expose their fears.

BJP gets pally with Mani to woo Kerala Christians
Knowing well the Kerala Congress-M chief's craze for power, the BJP is ready to offer him a cabinet berth if he cooperates.

December 30

Sonia takes the plunge
Former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi's widow will campaign for the Congress in the ensuing Lok Sabha election. She took the decision, sources said, to 'save the party which was on the brink of collapse'.

Sonia's entry a shot in the arm for Congress
But spells trouble for party chief Sitaram Kesri.

Defectors treated Congress like a rail platform: Kesri
The Congress president blasted the defectors even as another former Union minister -- Ajit Kumar Panja -- left the party to join Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress.

No compromise on common civil code: Advani
'If the BJP is voted to power, not only Muslim law, even Hindu, Christian and other laws would be changed suitably within the constitutional framework,' said the BJP president.

Vaghela's ultimatum to Congress
Amidst talk that the Rashtriya Janata Party will join the United Front, party supremo and former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela has threatened to go it alone if the Congress does not finalise its strategy by Wednesday.

Six-day cut in campaign period
Now, instead of 20 days after the last date for withdrawing nominations, political parties will have only 14.

December 28

Former UP Congress chief joins SP
Former Union minister Balram Singh Yadav gave the tottering UP Congress a major blow when he joined the Samajwadi Party.

December 27

Exodus rattles Congress
Congress chief Sitaram Kesri's aides allege that Sonia Gandhi is clandestinely engineering defections to the BJP. She is upset with Kesri for defying her. And is trying to ensure that the BJP does not harass her family in case it comes to power.

Gujarat assembly dissolved
Governor Krishanpal Singh has dissolved the state assembly, rejecting the Bharatiya Janata Party's claim that the party was in a position to form the government.

UP govt pulled up for poll sops
The Election Commission has asked the state chief secretary to explain why schemes worth millions of rupees were announced less than a week before the December 29 legislative council elections.

December 25

'Congress gains strength only in AP'
An opinion poll says that Andhra Pradesh is the only state where a pro-Congress shift has been witnessed. But the BJP would eat into the Congress's vote bank, helping Chandrababu Naidu's Telugu Desam. Surprisingly, however, the latter will not increase its tally in the ensuing Lok Sabha elections. Read on to find out why.

December 24

Kesri incurs Sonia's wrath
At the height of his wrangle with stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee, the Congress chief defied Sonia. And is now said to be in deep trouble.

CPI-M rules out joint UF manifesto
"A joint manifesto is not possible because there are some fundamental differences," said CPI-M general secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet.

BJP may get five seats in TN
The BJP expects a landslide in Maharashtra, a clean sweep in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh and a marked improvement in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Tricky ties kick up confusion
The DMK and the TMC have dissolved their differences. So have the AIADMK, the BJP, the MDMK and the PMK, forging an alliance. But neither group is sure what their electoral plank would be.

December 23

Mamata gets the axe
Three days after Sonia's intervention ended a smouldering crisis in the Congress, stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee struck again. She refused to withdraw her statement that the BJP was 'not communal'. And insisted that she would contest on a separate symbol, forcing the Congress leadership to expel her from the party.

Surjeet doubts Gujral's integrity
Hobnobbing with the Akali Dal and Laloo Yadav, the prime minister has incurred the Left's wrath. ''In the fight against the anti-UF forces, the prime minister has failed to fulfil his role,'' said the CPI-M general secretary.

Ready for compromises: Vajpayee
The BJP leader said his party was ready to compromise on issues like the Ayodhya temple to pre-empt a 1996-like situation -- when his government at the Centre lasted just 13 days.

Congress alone responsible for Rajiv death, says VP
Rajiv Gandhi appointed the people who decided on the protection due to him... And it was a Congressman who lead the killer up to him. The former PM trashes the Jain Commission interim report.

'How can you call the BJP a communal party?'
As speculation mounts that Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu has an uphill task against the Congress, film-maker Dasari Narayana Rao took a plunge into politics. An exclusive interview.

Little chance of proxy voting for defence personnel
Only the BJP backs the EC plan. Other parties want a wider debate in Parliament since it involves an amendment of the Representation of People Act.

December 21

Thackeray 'elected' Sena leader
The party bows down to the Election Commission diktat.

Congress, UF have to come together after poll: V P Singh
Stressing that such a compromise is inevitable, the former prime minister said the secular parties should remember that the Bharatiya Janata Party would be on the prowl again after the election. It may try to engineer defections, like in Uttar Pradesh, to form a government at the Centre.

December 20

BJP tries to woo Muslims
Apparently dumping the Ayodhya temple issue from the agenda, Advani told the party's national executive meeting, ''Our list of candidates should fairly reflect the social composition of the Indian society. We should make added efforts to identify deserving candidates from among religious minorities, especially Muslims.''

SP plans 'seat adjustments' with Congress
The party is now willing to tie-up with any secular party in its bid to defeat the communal Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance in Maharashtra.

Gujral caught in JD-RJD crossfire
Several United Front constituents are up in the arms against Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral for his reported soft stand towards former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal.
Poll panel pulls up Telugu Desam
The Election Commission has taken a serious note of the Telugu Desam Party's decision to drop provisions relating to socialism, secularism and democracy from its constitution.

December 19

Church to issue moral manifesto for election
Though Church officials say their agenda is meant to help parties bring in a stable and secular government, many see it as an indirect effort to oppose the BJP from coming to power.

Kesri's dithering costs Congress dear
Pressure is mounting on the Congress president. His rivals in the party are likely to kick up a storm. Over stormy petrel Mamata Banerjee's revolt. Over the Tamil Nadu fiasco, where the BJP caught the Congress napping by striking an alliance with the AIADMK....

Mani Shankar Aiyar 'snaps ties with Kesri'
Former Lok Sabha member Mani Shankar Aiyar today 'disassociated' himself from the Congress, saying that party president Sitaram Kesri cannot be forgiven for having driven the secular Tamil Nadu into the Bharatiya Janata Party's evil hands.

December 18

BJP ties up with AIADMK in Tamil Nadu
The BJP has decided to form an alliance with the AIADMK for February's general election. Though it was a welcome decision for the AIADMK, the BJP's course was strewn with confusion, and constant differences between the national leadership and a section of the state unit.

President's intervention ends poll panel crisis
K R Narayanan's advice seems to have had the desired effect, and G V G Krishnamurty, who stayed away from office in protest against Dr M S Gill's remarks over the Shiv Sena issue, today attended office.

BJP has an edge in UP
With both Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party vice-president Mayawati ruling out any kind of rapprochement, the BJP seems to be in a stronger position.

JD asks PM to drop RJD ministers
Janata Dal leaders today mounted pressure on Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral to drop the three Rashtriya Janata Dal ministers from his ministry as the latter had joined hands with the Congress for the general election.

RJD-BSP announce poll tie-up
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Kanshi Ram says his party would enter into an alliance with the Rashtriya Janata Dal in the coming Lok Sabha elections.

Sena ready to support Seshan: Thackeray
The Shiv Sena is all set to support former chief election commissioner T N Seshan as an independent candidate to the Lok Sabha from Maharashtra, provided he fits into the party's ideology.

HP assembly, LS polls may be held simultaneously
The Election Commission has agreed to consider requests for simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Himachal Pradesh and a Lok Sabha election in Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country.

December 17

Poll panel heads for major crisis Election Commissioner G V G Krishnamurty has levelled serious allegations against Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill.

Sonia breaks her silence for Mamata
The fiery West Bengal Congress leader has succeeded where all Sonia Gandhi 'loyalists' had failed. As Banerjee stepped up her campaign against Congress president Sitaram Kesri, Sonia felt it was time to intervene. And save the party from disintegration.

Dilip Ray joins Biju Dal, to quit Gujral ministry
The minister has played a key role in the formation of the new regional party.

Party pressure may force Advani to contest from Gujarat
BJP cadres oppose party chief's decision against contesting the poll.

December 16

Kesri's on a roll!
Ten days after the dissolution of the 11th Lok Sabha, the Congress is hammering a grand alliance of secular parties to contest the coming general election. It has already tied up a firm electoral alliance with Bihar's biggest vote-catcher -- Laloo Prasad Yadav.

Election commissioners lock horns over Sena
The Commission's ultimatum to the Shiv Sena for its failure to hold organisational elections has triggered a war of words between Chief Election Commissioner M S Gill and Election Commissioner G V G Krishnamurty. Following this, the latter has cancelled his Orissa trip and stayed away from office.

Laloo vows to ruin JD
No one in the United Front, who had dared to carry out a smear campaign against the RJD chief, would be spared, says former Bihar chief minister's close aide Raghuvansh Prasad Singh.

BSP to contest 300 seats
''The party would like to have seat state-level adjustments with the Congress and other parties,'' says BSP chief Kanshi Ram.

'Lady Amitabh' eyes politics
Vijayashanti has sent jitters down the spines of various leaders in Andhra Pradesh, with subtle hints that she is all set to storm the political world. She has already met BJP president L K Advani. Will the Telugu superstar plunge into the murky waters of AP politics?

Biju's son splits JD in Orissa
The Janata Dal in Orissa split today with as many as 29 of the total 43 party MLAs forming a separate outfit called 'Biju Janata Dal', to be headed by the late Biju Patnaik's youngest son Naveen Patnaik.

December 13

DMK-TMC alliance will continue
''We have sorted out the minor irritants at the lower levels, and the alliance will continue,'' DMK supremo and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi said.

Sena may give Seshan a ticket from Bombay
The former chief election commissioner, who raised the hackles of many political parties during his controversial-but-mercurial tenure, has finally decided to jump in the electoral fray.

EC bans use of govt aircraft by ministers
Election Commissioner G V G Krishnamurty said the Commission also decided not to recognise any political party or group after the announcement of dates for the Lok Sabha or assembly elections.

Election Commission summons Thackeray
In a formal notice to the Sena chief, the Commission has warned, ''Failure to appear before the Commission would mean that the party does not have anything to say on the matter and the Commission would be free to take an ex-parte decision.''

Laloo says he will align with Congress, JMM
The RJD leader, who broke away from the Janata Dal in July, said formal talks with the Congress and other parties on an electoral alliance will be held next week. Yadav is likely to meet Congress president Sitaram Kesri in Delhi on Sunday.

Kesri sidelines Pawar, Chavan
Sources said Pawar, who played a significant role in the 1996 general election as a member of the Congress election manifesto committee, has been ignored as Kesri has serious reservations about his loyalty.

December 12

Look, who's talking!
In an effort to shed its anti-minority image, the Bharatiya Janata Party has decided to field a number of prominent personalities from the minority communities at the general election. BJP sources said the party will reserve at least five per cent of seats for Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.

President asks EC to ensure fair, peaceful poll
Expressing concern over criminalisation of politics, K R Narayanan said the whole world was keenly watching the electoral process in India. Therefore, it was incumbent on all political parties to see that only ''good'' candidates were fielded in the election.

Advani may not contest Lok Sabha poll
The BJP president said ''the realignment of the political forces was contributing to the certainty of the party's victory''.

Ball in DMK court: Moopanar
''It was Karunanidhi who had said that his party's executive would review the alliance. We have not broken the alliance," the TMC chief said, adding that his party could not decide on the issue as it was the minor partner.

Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy meets Jaya
It was the first formal contact between leaders of the two parties after nearly a year in an effort to arrive at seat adjustment for the general election.

SP rules out alliance with Congress
The Samajwadi Party today ruled out any truck with the Congress in Uttar Pradesh or in any state where the United Front constituents have a strong presence.

December 11

EC to announce poll dates in advance
Worried about the large-scale violation of the Model Code of Conduct, the Election Commission is thinking of advancing the election.

BJP sheds 'ego hassles' in its bid to defeat Left
The Bharatiya Janata Party today asserted that it was its patriotic responsibility to free the country from the Communists and that it will extend full support to any party which also had a similar goal.

Congress constitutes 3 poll panels
The 10-member coordination committee, headed by Kesri, will virtually replace the Congress Working Committee during the election period.

Hegde rules out rejoining the JD
He said the Janata Dal would not exist after the parliamentary election and there could not be any understanding with a "diseased and dying party".

December 10

V P Singh to cool DMK-TMC tensions
Aided by senior UF leaders like Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the ailing leader has met DMK chief M Karunanidhi and TMC chief G K Moopanar separately in the last few days.

UF to contest 350 LS seats
Front spokesman S Jaipal Reddy says the combine will have a common manifesto and a joint election campaign which will commence at the month-end.

JD to focus on Bihar, Karnataka, Orissa
The Janata Dal's political affairs committee has decided to concentrate on Bihar, Karnataka and Orissa in the coming general election while ruling out any truck with the Congress.

Stable govt and able PM: BJP's plank
BJP vice-president K L Sharma says the party is in touch with former Karnataka chief ministers Ramakrishna Hegde and S Bangarappa and West Bengal Congress leader Mamata Banerjee for possible tie-ups.

December 9

BJP woos regional parties
The party's soft targets in the United Front are the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu.

Kesri furious with Arjun's designs
Though they have ostensibly been seeking her help to guide the Congress, the party president's followers are against Sonia's leadership.

'UF is a 13-piece orchestra conducted from outside by Surjeet'
Holding the UF responsible for forcing elections on the country, Congress spokesman V N Gadgil said the ''orchestra has neither harmony nor melody but jarred tunes and discordant notes''. Now people have to face the music, he said.

Gujral's NE package creates storm
The Election Commission has refused to comment on whether or not Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral's reported announcement about a Rs 75 billion North-East economic package amounted to a violation of the model code of conduct.

5 Kashmir militants to join BJP
The militants, who had once picked up the gun in the valley against Indian authorities, are now considering joining the BJP, saying the party alone could safeguard the Muslims's interests.

December 7

Basu, Naidu UF candidates for the prime ministership
United Front sources said the move to project a prime ministerial candidate will keep the Front united during the general election. It will also put an end to various senior leaders's post-election claims for the prime minister's post.

December 6

Will Sonia run?
One day after the Lok Sabha was dissolved, most Congress leaders have begun turning their heads in veneration towards the party's indisputable power centre, Sonia Gandhi. Congressmen believe Rajiv Gandhi's widow should lead the party's electoral campaign.

Mulayam's 'selective' support for Congress
''If the Congress is an untouchable, why was its support taken by the UF government?'' the Samajwadi Party chief asked.

No truck with Congress: JD
JD president Sharad Yadav said his party would fight both the BJP and the Congress.

Gujral's Jalandhar seat may strain BJP-Akali ties
The ruling Akali Dal has made repeated offers to I K Gujral supporting his candidature from Jalandhar to express its gratitude -- he had waived Rs 85 billion aid to Punjab. Its ally, the BJP has been reluctant to agree to the Akalis's generosity.

BJP to kick off poll campaign at Bhubaneswar
The party's three-day national executive session in Orissa will finalise the various campaign committees and go to the people with the specific appeal, ''Give us a decisive victory.''

Poll panel bans transfer of officials
As the candidates's election expenditure ceiling of Rs 450,000 is highly unrealistic, the Commission has decided to give them some concessions.

December 5

President dissolves Lok Sabha; elections in February
Now that the political crisis has given way to an election, leaders have begun working overtime for a realignment of political forces. There is a distinct possibility that Laloo Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and G K Moopanar will cross over to a Congress-led front soon.

Criminals will be kept out of polls
Election Commissioner G V Krishnamurty said the Commission proposes to conduct three-day elections in states with more than 40 seats.

Polls may not trigger new tie-ups
The pressure of an impending election is unlikely to spark new political alliances of convenience, with all the major parties taking a rigid stand.