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January 5, 1998


Samata Party asks BJP to stop playing big brother

R R Nair in New Delhi

In yet another instance of the emerging strains in the Bharatiya Janata Party's relations with its poll allies, Samata Party general secretary Jaya Jaitley told Rediff On The NeT that the BJP should not take its poll partners for granted.

"If the BJP wants us to stay with it after the election, they should respect our demands during the seat adjustment process. For the alliance to be cohesive in the post-election situation, the BJP should not be taking its allies lightly. If Sushma stands by her statement, then I should say the BJP is showing a steamroller kind of attitude towards its partners," says Jaitley.

The controversy arose after BJP spokesperson and general secretary Sushma Swaraj told reporters last week that all her party's allies stood by its controversial agenda, including building a Ram temple at Ayodhya, withdrawal of Article 370 for Jammu and Kashmir and the enforcement of a Uniform Civil Code.

Though its other allies -- including the Akali Dal and the Haryana Vikas Party -- did not comment on Swaraj's statement, Samata Party president George Fernandes reacted sharply to the BJP claim, calling for a common minimum programme minus the contentious issues.

BJP leaders claim the Samata Party's sudden belligerence is designed to get 24 seats in Bihar. The Samata Party contested 22 seats and won six seats in the 1996 general election. The BJP's Bihar unit feels it overestimated the Samata Party's appeal the last time around, hence there is no need to give Fernandes and Co all the seats they want.

Swaraj's statement also leaves the Samata leadership with the unenviable task of defending the BJP's alliance with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam whose leader Jayalalitha Jayaram faces serious charges of corruption. The Samata Party's poll plank in Bihar -- the state from where all its MPs were elected in 1996 -- is its allegations of corruption against former chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav. It has now become difficult for the Samata leadership to to distinguish between Laloo and Jayalalitha's corruption charges.

The Samata Party is also trying to strike roots outside the Hindi belt, in states where the BJP cannot boast of a strong following. With this in view, it is trying to rope in former Naxalites to make a dent in the Naxalite-dominated Telengana region of Andhra Pradesh. Party leaders have held talks with former People's War Group leader Kondappali Seetharamaiah, activist-balladeer Gaddar and ideologue-poet Dr Vara Vara Rao.

Former Union minister Kalpnath Rai is slated to join the Samata Party this week. He won the Ghosi seat in Uttar Pradesh in the 1996 election and the Samata Party will ask the BJP for that seat and four other constituencies in UP as well.

In Orissa, along with the BJP, the Samata Party too claims to have struck an alliance with the Biju Janata Dal. "We are not a conduit for anyone to ally with the BJP. A share of Bijubabu's legacy is ours too and our alliance with the BJD is independent of the BJP's understanding with that party. We intend to field our Orissa unit president Bhabani Shanker Hota from Sambalpur which he won in the 1989 election," says Jaitley.

The Samata Party also wants the Gulbarga seat in in Karnataka. In 1996, S K Kanta, its Karnataka unit chief, came second with the BJP third in Gulbarga.

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