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February 14, 1998


Arun Nehru

A swing of 30 seats would spare us somersaults

The third stage of the campaign starts next week and it is time to look at all the states to try and interpret events after the election is over. Things are settling down and the Bharatiya Janata Party agenda clearly returns to Hindutva from Sonia Gandhi, and this coupled with Kalyan Singh's move to drop the Ayodhya cases, marks the end of a wider agenda as proposed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

There are positives and negatives in each situation and clearly the BJP move is to protect its main votebank. The Congress continues to consolidate under Sonia Gandhi and the crowds clearly mean votes. The United Front continues to make confusing music .

Delhi seems to be advantage BJP, with the Congress ahead in Chandni Chowk and offering stiff resistance in Karol Bagh and New Delhi. The BJP seem to be cruising ahead in South Delhi, Outer, Sadar, East Delhi. Karol Bagh and New Delhi the edge seems to be with the BJP.

The Congress in Himachal Pradesh will win the assembly election comfortably and three out of four seats in Parliment. The contest is in Kangra and Shanta Kumar may prevail. Kashmir and the National Conference should walk away with Anantnag, Baramullah, Ladakh and Srinagar while the Congress struggles to retain Jammu. The BJP in Udhampur also faces an uphill task. The NC challenge is apparent in these seats also but the BJP and the Congress may hold on by lower margins.

Haryana presents an interesting battle with the Haryana Vikas Party-Bharatiya Janata Party combine under severe pressure. The prohibition disaster and the sheer failure to generate goodwill has seen Om Parkash Chautala and the Haryana Lok Dal on the offensive and the Tau dynasty is risking everything to return to power.

The HLD seems to be ahead in Kurukshetra, Sirsa and Sonepat where former Union minister Selja has a very difficult task to retain her seat. The Congress seems to be ahead in Karnal with the unsinkable Bhajan Lal and in Mahendergarh. The Rohtak seat is a desperate battle between Bhupinder Hooda and Devi Lal, and anything can happen.

A similar situation in Bhiwani where Surinder Singh fights, and fights hard to retain his seat.

The BJP seems to be ahead in Ambala and in Faridabad the contest is between the BJP and the Congress. The Hissar seat seems secure with the HVP. Haryana clearly shows the HLD gaining. The Congress also gains while the HVP-BJP combine is under pressure. I see the HVP-BJP combine winning three seats, HLD four and the Congress three.

The Punjab situation shows the Akalis ahead, but with a reduced tally. The party seems to be ahead in Bhatinda, Jalandhar, (I K Gujral), Ludhiana, Phillaur, Ropar, Sangrur and Tarn Taran, but faces a very stiff fight in Faridkot from Jagmeet Singh Brar and the Congress.

Brar has a great deal of fight in him, has performed well, fights against odds, and can pull it off! The BJP should win Hoshiarpur and the Congress should win Patiala with Amarinder Singh, Gurdaspur with Sukhbans Bhinder and Amritsar with R L Bhatia. Chandigarh seems to favour the BJP but this is always a stiff fight.

Rajasthan is again closely contested, and again Sonia Gandhi's meetings cannot be ignored. The advantage with the Congress rests in Alwar, Barmer, Bharatpur, Dausa with Rajesh Pilot, Jodhpur, Pali, Salumber, Sikar and Udaipur. The BJP is under pressure in Banswada, Bayana, Churu and even in Tonk. The BJP's tally of 15 can come down and the honours may well be evenly split.

In Madhya Pradesh the BJP will be under pressure to retain the seats won earlier. Arjun Singh, V C Shukla, Madhavrao Scindia, Kamal Nath and Motillal Vora are all in the fray and on a winning streak. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the infighting in the BJP can cost the party a great deal. Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat is perhaps the tallest leader the BJP has in the state and without doubt the party may gain by this.

Western India again represents an area where gains and losses will be minimal. The Gujarat negotiations between Vaghela and the Congress continue and this may or may not succeed. As events stand the BJP has the upper hand and L K Advani's decision to contest from Gandhinagar may take care of the infighting which afflicts the BJP.

The Congress has the advantage in Anand, Bhavnagar, Bulsar, Chotta Udaipur, Dohad, Mandvi, Nadiad and Surendranagar while Banaskantha, Baroda, Dhanduka, Kapadwanj and Sabarkanta will witness keen contests.

The Congress figure of eight in Gujarat can go up by a seat or two.

The Maharashtra figures take into account the show of solidarity by the Congress leaders and the good work done by the Congress general secretary in charge of the state, Madhavrao Scindia. The agreement between the Republican Party of India and the Samajwadi Party at minimal cost to the Congress will benefit the party. Sharad Pawar, S B Chavan,Vithal Gadgil, A R Antulay and Shivraj Patil all working under the same umbrella is a positive.

The Congress will be under pressure as the Shiv Sena and the BJP lack neither talent nor charisma. Pune will witness a keen battle where Suresh Kalmadi will fight with his characteristic vigour but he may had have had a easier time as a BJP candidate. Kalyan Singh's recent decision to withdraw the Babri Masjid cases will affect Muslim votes and this can cause problems in Bombay and Pune which have a sizeable Muslim population.

The Goa election scene needs greater analysis, but the Congress seem in a winning position.

Bihar and Uttar Pradesh present the key to the BJP majority. In Bihar Laloo Yadav and the Congress are on the defensive and there are minor gains to the BJP-Samta combine. In Uttar Pradesh, I cannot really see a total BJP sweep. Mulayam Singh's seats include Chandra Shekhar's Ballia seat; Ajit Singh's Baghpat seat is added to the Congress tally while Maneka Gandhi's Pilibhit seat is indicated under the BJP. I see the BSP getting back to its original position and Kalyan Singh's Babri decision will polarise the situation further.

The BJP as before emerges as the major party and with its allies should win between 240 and 250 seats. The Congress and its allies, with between 160 and 170 seats, will be the first target of the BJP. And while the Congress with 150 seats plus may not split, there may be problems with Laloo Yadav and his reduced brigade of 15 members! The Asom Gana Parishad, Left, Mulayam Singh, National Conference and the Tamil Maanila Congress are unlikely to support the BJP, but what will the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Telugu Desam Party do?

The second scenario is the Congress and the others combining, but can anyone predict clear and selfless actions from the same leaders who guided the United Front? Can you think of any country in the world where a minority partner runs the government and hurls missiles at the majority partner? Time clearly for many things to become clear: Will Sonia Gandhi pursue the Jain Commission report and drive the DMK-TMC combine to the BJP? Will the leaders of the United Front act like leaders?

We could also have a swing of 30 seats either way and this will spare everyone the need to take moral and ethical somersaults.

This week's forecast

StateSeats BJPAlliesCongress RegionalOthers
422 _2712 (TDP) 1 MIM
Assam131 _73 (AGP) 2
2_ __2 (Ar Cong) _
Bihar5423 13 (Samata)3

15 (RJD + allies)

Delhi76 _1__
Goa2_ _11_
Gujarat2618 _8_ _
Haryana101 2(HVP)34 (BSP + HLD) _
41 _3_ _
J&K61 _14(NC) _
Karnataka2812 3 (LK)103 (JD) BJP-LK
Kerala20_ _13 (Cong, allies)7 (LDF) _
MP4028 _11_1 BSP
Maharashtra4818 14 (SS)16_ _
Manipur2_ _1_ 1
Mizoram1_ _1_ _
Nagaland1_ _1_ _
Meghalaya2_ _2_ _
Punjab132 7 (AD)31 (JD) _
Orissa213 2 (BJD)16_ _
Rajasthan2515 _10_ _
Sikkim1_ ___ 1
Tamil Nadu391 10 (AIADMK)_28 (DMK-TMC) _
Tripura2_ __2 (Left) _
UP8560 3315 (Samajwadi) BSP (4) _
West Bengal42_ _636 (LF) _
Union Try63 _21 (DMK-TMC) _
Total542 19653144+19 11613

BJP and allies: 196+53 = 249

Congress and allies: 163 + UF 116 = 279

Others (Haryana Lok Dal: 4 BSP: 4 Others 5)= 13

Arun Nehru

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