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Lok Sabha polls likely in Feb

July 23, 2003 11:00 IST

Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani has said the government will order snap general elections in February 2004.

He revealed this to two Members of Parliament -- one a National Democratic Alliance partner and one from the Bharatiya Janata Party.

This reflects a decision at a closed-door meeting in Raipur that discussed advancing the Lok Sabha elections due in October 2004.

The consensus was that the party should gear up for elections but keep its powder dry till the results of the polls in five states in the second week of November are out.

A major consideration with both the party and the government is the kind of Budget that has to be placed if polls are held on schedule.

"The country cannot afford a soft Budget. But if we have the elections in October 2004, we will have to present a populist Budget. The alternative is to avoid one altogether," a BJP source explained.

"The thinking in the government goes thus: We've had a good monsoon and the economy is not doing all that bad. If we have an election Budget, India's image overseas will be badly damaged," said an MP from an NDA partner.

The BJP draws attention to the slew of 'pro-people' announcements the government made recently.

"Agricultural interest rates have been cut to 9 per cent, a big package has already been announced for sugarcane farmers, and the prime minister has announced the Varishtha Pension Bima Yojana. More such measures are in the offing, including increasing the number of Kisan credit cards from 30 million to 50 million. The finance ministry has already given the go-ahead for this. Our slogan for the urban voter is No Queue, No Black Market. All this is not just coincidental," a BJP source said.

The BJP has had surveys conducted by various agencies that indicate Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's popularity is between 52 per cent and 76 per cent in various areas of India.

The only question is whether Vajpayee will accept this. Government sources told Business Standard that the prime minister would take a decision only in November.

However, it was clear in Raipur that Vajpayee is more guarded in accepting the idea of early elections than others in the party.

In his 35-minute speech at Raipur, he made three points: That the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was annoyed with him, and though Advani was also a VHP target, the more direct attack was on him; that possibly the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was not happy about some decisions taken by him, but 'we have to do what is right for the country'; and that swadeshi must be interpreted in the contemporary context, that is, if someone was bringing money to India on the BJP's terms, why should India not accept it?

His parting comment was, "The last word will be Advani-ji's."

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Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi