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Daily Take: Congress turns tables on BJP

May 01, 2004 00:51 IST

Perhaps buoyed by the exit poll results, the Congress seems to be becoming bolder.

All these years, while the BJP went after Sonia Gandhi, the Congress was content to defend her, but seldom counterattacked.

But with the election scenario hotting up, old restraints seem to be giving way. And with the BJP forced to fall back on the charisma of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, he has become an obvious target.

Thus, on Friday, Kapil Sibal, senior Supreme Court advocate, Congress spokesman and party candidate from Chandni Chowk, took potshots at Vajpayee's memory lapses.

Campaigning in his constituency Lucknow, the prime minister, Sibal noted, had asked voters to vote on September 5. The election is scheduled for May 5.

In another instance, while campaigning in Chhattisgarh, the prime minister got mixed up between the Lok Sabha, for which elections are being held, and the Rajya Sabha.

Citing these instances, Sibal said Vajpayee's 'forgetfulness' had become a national issue and it was time for the BJP to look for a younger leader.

For good measure, he warned, what would happen if Vajpayee made some promises to Musharraf and then forgot about them? So now it's a national security issue as well!

The constant sniping by the Congress and its allies about Mulayam Singh Yadav going soft on the BJP must have begun to worry the Samajwadi Party boss.

In the normal course, Yadav would have poohpoohed these claims, but with the exit polls -- they seem to be ruling everyone's minds currently -- suggesting that Muslims may just be suspicious of his intentions, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister came out in the open and committed himself not to support the BJP in forming the next government in New Delhi.

Yadav, instead, tried to revive the idea of a Third Front, hoping that smaller parties in the Lok Sabha would be able to get together after the election and perform an encore of the United Front experiment.

Of course, that's easier said than done, considering that every one of those great leaders who Yadav thinks he can muster also fancies himself as prime minister.

Yadav on his part claimed that he had never hankered after a post. 'I have never tried to become a leader,' he said, 'not even the chief minister. All this depends upon the people.'

Considering that his party's best performance in the Lok Sabha has been to put together about 30 MPs, which 'people' he is referring to is anyone's guess.

Like Yadav, there are a whole host of reluctant leaders in the Opposition, who will do a job for the country if the 'people' so demand, but themselves have no desire to hold any office.

There's the octogenarian Jyoti Basu as well, he of the 'historic blunder' fame.

Remember the time the erstwhile United Front had narrowed down its quest for a leader to Basu and was all set to ask him before his younger colleagues in the CPI-M Politburo put their foot down and said no Marxist could lead a government in which the Marxists do not have a majority?

Well, after that H D Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral became prime ministers for a year each, before the voters finally decided to give Atal Bihari Vajpayee a chance.

Basu, 90 this July 8, may be eyeing another chance to correct the 'historic blunder,' though he is too suave to say so himself. The only thing he is willing to say as of now is that an appropriate leader will be found after the election.

Meanwhile, the BJP, never one to let go of an opportunity, is making good use of this dissonance on the leadership question in the Opposition.

With leaders like the NCP's Sharad Pawar and the RJD's Laloo Prasad Yadav also staking their claims, the BJP said the country had got a 'snapshot' of the real character of the opposition.

'It is Pawar versus Sonia Gandhi and Laloo Yadav versus Mulayam Singh Yadav,' Law Minister Arun Jaitley remarked.

'With just two rounds of polling over and still almost half of [the election] yet to be completed,' he said, 'a peculiar situation has arisen in the country with the opposition raising false hopes of it coming to power.'

Jaitley said with even veterans like Basu, Deve Gowda and former prime minister Chandra Shekhar eyeing the top job, the Opposition leaders were experiencing a 'phony feel-good' factor in the middle of the Lok Sabha election.

This 'phony feel-good' effect will, of course, last even shorter than the BJP's original 'feel-good,' with the final results due less than a fortnight from now.

Not surprisingly, the BJP has hardened its stand on exit polls.

To be fair, the party had consistently opposed the publication of exit polls results before the final phase of polling.

In fact, this was the stand of all political parties, but both the Election Commission and Supreme Court said it was beyond their powers to ban the exit polls.

The BJP now says it will remedy the situation if its National Democratic Alliance returns to power.

BJP President M Venkaiah Naidu said the NDA would initiate a proposal by consensus to ensure that the results of exit polls are announced only after the last vote is cast.

Naidu said the early publication of the exit poll results had taken the country for 'a ride' and caused 'unnecessary fears of unstability.'

He didn't, however, say why, if the NDA believes the exit polls are wrong and it is going to return to power with a comfortable majority, it should take so much umbrage at the exercise.

It is also a moot point whether the other Opposition parties will agree to any such consensus after the election.

On the other hand, if the exit polls prove wrong, they just might be the ones clamouring for a ban!

Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Najma Heptullah, Congress leader in name but BJP leader in spirit, has openly been campaigning for the NDA.

She told a television news channel on Friday that every 'sensible' citizen of India should support the ruling alliance for political stability.

For good measure, she added that she is a 'sensible Indian citizen.'

She didn't really need to say that. Her 'sensible' nature is proved by the fact that she is staying in one party while campaigning for its rival.

She could well have resigned from the party, but then she probably does not want to lose her Rajya Sabha seat and status as deputy chairperson.

Earlier Editions:
Daily Take: Against the popular will
Daily Take: Rajni has spoken
Daily Take: India flexes electoral muscles
Daily Take: Congress makes Dharam garam
Daily Take: Making a virtue of necessity
Daily Take: Exit poll woes
Daily Take: BJP readies back-up plans
Daily Take: It's all one big friendly party

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