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Peace moves will depend on polls: Political analyst
Monika Joshi in New York |
June 14, 2003 04:33 IST
The fate of the recent peace initiatives with Pakistan will depend on the outcome of the assembly elections in four states in November 2003, Neerja Chowdhury, political analyst and freelance writer, said in New York recently.
Chowdhury, who has been a political editor with The Indian Express and The Economic Times, was speaking at the Asia Society on June 12.
In her address, 'Governing India: The Return of Pragmatic Politics? Understanding National Elections 2004,' she explained how the coming assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Chhattisgarh will determine the timing and issues of the general election next year.
In addition to the peace moves with Pakistan, some of these issues will be reforms and Hindu-Muslim relations in India. The state elections will also determine fortunes of major parties and leaders such as Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.
In each of the four states, the Bharatiya Janata Party is pitted directly against the Congress.
Chowdhury said if the BJP fares well in these elections, it might go in for general elections in February 2004. That way it would neither risk another failed monsoon nor would its newly elected chief ministers have the time to make mistakes.
An early election in Uttar Pradesh will be beneficial to the party since people do not expect the Mayawati-led government to last till October next year when elections are due.
The BJP is a coalition partner of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party in the state.
In case of a BJP win in the state polls, the issues in the general election will revolve around development.
"The party is flogging development," she said. "It can attack the Congress on this ground in the states where the latter is in power. The TINA factor -- There is No Alternative to Vajpayee' -- will also come into play. Vajpayee's initiative in improving India-Pakistan relations will earn him certain brownie points."
If the BJP, however, fares badly in the state polls, there will be a lot of pressure on Vajpayee and the party may have to go back to the Hindutva agenda, she said.
"The general election may be fought on issues of the kind we saw in Godhra," Chowdhury said.
She talked about the Congress and the BJP's strategic alliances with regional parties. The BJP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh could together swing 55 seats in the general election. Another likely partner for the BJP, she said, is J Jayalalithaa's All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Telugu Desam Party's Chandrababu Naidu, who has 29 seats in the Lok Sabha, had sought Narendra Modi's removal in Gujarat and many thought he would pull the plug on the government at the Centre.
However, the TDP's main adversary in Andhra Pradesh is the Congress, and so he is likely to stay with the BJP, she said. In West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee's chief adversary is the Left, so she will have to stick with the BJP.
"As of today, you cannot rule out a BJP-led government at the Centre," Chowdhury said.
The Congress is in power in 16 states, but it is not in the reckoning in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa. These four states together account for 200 out of 545 seats in Parliament.
While the party has never had alliances, Sonia Gandhi's recent policy statement that the party is open to it is an important turning point. Chowdhury also said while her foreign origin is not an issue for the vast majority of ordinary people, it does matter to the middle classes.
She said Sonia might become the prime minister if the Congress wins at least 200 out of 545 seats in alliance with the Left and one or two regional parties. However, if it wins fewer seats, its regional coalition partners would try to manoeuvre the situation to prevent her from becoming the prime minister.
Chowdhury termed the recent India-Pakistan initiative a 'pre-emptive move' post-Iraq. The prime minister had made a virtue out of necessity, she said, adding the recent statement by General Jay Garner about a Kashmir roadmap had pressed panic buttons in India.
"Secularism for India is not a luxury but a necessity," she said. "You cannot dump 150 million Muslims. You have to take them along," she said.