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|September 28, 1999||
With results a week away, Congress, BJP begin jockeying for power
George Iype in New Delhi
Exactly a week before the general election results begin to roll out, the numbers game has begun in New Delhi with both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party claiming that they will get the people's mandate to form the next government.
Buoyed by reports of its resurgence in the crucial Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh, the Congress today insisted that it would emerge as the single largest party and ought to be given first shot at forming the new government.
Congress politicians presented statistics based on the party's performance in the month-long campaign to claim that it would win at least 40 seats more than in 1998 and take its tally to 180.
According to an internal survey submitted by some politicians to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and made available to rediff.com, the party will open its accounts in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab with at least 20 and 8 seats, respectively.
The Congress will also bag 15 seats more in Madhya Pradesh than in 1998 to take its tally to 25, the survey claimed.
Similarly, it will increase its share in Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat by four, three and three seats, respectively.
The survey said the Congress would lose at least 15 seats in Maharashtra because of the rebellion by Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar and four in Rajasthan.
"But our losses in Maharashtra and Rajasthan will be compensated for in other states. Therefore, Soniaji is confident that it will be the Congress, and not the BJP, that will emerge as the single largest party," a Congressman close to her told rediff.com
The survey said minority and dalit voters, countrywide, are returning to the Congress and that is one of the most important reasons for its revival in Uttar Pradesh.
Based on these assumptions, Gandhi deputed party spokesman Kapil Sibal to announce for the first time that "the Congress will emerge as the single largest party and form the next government".
Sibal told rediff.com that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance "does not have any legal and political validity".
"The pre-poll alliance that the BJP has entered into with a group of disparate groups does not have any post-poll significance if the Congress emerges as the single largest party surpassing the BJP," Sibal said.
He said the so-called pre-poll allies of the BJP like the Janata Dal (United) and the Telugu Desam Party are already talking and acting differently. "Therefore, we are hopeful that the President will invite the Congress to form the next government."
But BJP politicians say it is "immaterial" whether their party emerges as the single largest because Atal Bihari Vajpayee is the leader and prime ministerial candidate of the NDA, and not just the BJP.
They also insist that the BJP will improve on its 1998 tally of 182 seats and the NDA will get more than 300 seats and emerge as the single largest bloc. Therefore, the President will have to invite Vajpayee to form the government.
But many observers believe that since the President has always invited the party with the most seats to form a government and prove its majority, K R Narayanan is likely to ask the Congress to do so if it emerges as the single largest party.
According to the Constitution, the President shall invite the leader of the largest party to form the government and win a vote of confidence on the floor of the Lok Sabha.
In 1996, President Shankar Dayal Sharma had invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of the BJP, which had emerged as the single largest party, to form the government.
But Vajpayee, who was given two weeks to prove his majority, failed to gather support and resigned after just 13 days.
Thereafter the President invited the second largest party, the Congress, to form the government. But it refused the invitation. Whereupon the Janata Dal and its allies formed the United Front coalition headed by H D Deve Gowda with Congress support from outside.
Congress politicians say they are basing their claim on the precedent set by the President in 1996.
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