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Vajpayee's strategy, Advani's tactics

By Ambrish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Last updated on: December 05, 2003 12:57 IST
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At the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters on Ashoka Road, celebrations were in full swing. Firecrackers were going off every now and then, making it impossible for those around to talk; gulal was being smeared by workers on each other and on willing journalists; tasty laddoos were being distributed to all and sundry.

The leaders were present but unwilling to say much. "Today is a day for celebration. Eat the laddoos and keep the questions for tomorrow," said BJP general secretary, Prakash Javdedkar.

The BJP deserves every piece of laddoo it can lay its hands on. Its stunning victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have not only put the party on a surer footing for next year's general election, these were successful culmination of a pair of experiments put into motion almost a year back.

A senior BJP leader said that when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee decided that the elections to the five assemblies -- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Mizoram -- would be fought on the issues of development and governance, it was a huge gamble. This leader pointed out that had the gamble failed, the repercussions would have been felt far and wide.

The party deliberately avoided mentioning Ayodhya, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders, who in the past have campaigned for the BJP, were not used at all in these election campaigns.

Vajpayee's vision paid off. In village after village, the issues were the lack of electricity [Madhya Pradesh], lack of roads [Rajasthan], and lack of water [Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan]. And desperate voters were willing to give the opposition a chance to provide them with these basic necessities.

Little surprise, a triumphant Javdekar on Thursday declared that future elections would be decided by the 'B.S.P' (bijlee, sadak, pani) factor.

Asked whether the party was ditching the Ram temple issue, he replied, "The Ram temple is our recognition and our thought."

"Future elections will be over governance and development, and we will ask the people to judge us for Lok Sabha elections on these issues," Javdekar added.

The second gamble was taken by Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani when he appointed young leaders such as Vasundhara Raje Scindia in Rajasthan, Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh, and Dilip Singh Judeo in Chhattisgarh to lead the respective states to elections.

It was a risk. Raje was perceived as an outsider in Rajasthan and did not speak the local Marwari dialect; while Uma Bharti was in the vanguard of the Hindutva movement, not a particularly valuable qualifications when the campaigning was going to be centered around issues of development.

But as the sounds of celebrations at Ashoka Road show, the gambles paid.

Meanwhile, the question dominating the BJP now is who will be the chief minister of Chhattisgarh. While Judeo led the party to victory, he is being ruled out until he is cleared of the corruption charges that he faces.

Two names have emerged: Union Minister for Mines Ramesh Bais, and Ramon Singh, both members of the Lok Sabha. The BJP parliamentary party is meeting to decide on this issue.

The second question is whether the central government will advance the Lok Sabha elections, due in September 2004. However, the BJP has officially ruled this out. "The general election will be held on schedule," announced BJP president Venkaiah Naidu.

A BJP source said that one reason the party does not want to advance the elections is that it is not sure whether Chief Election Commissioner J M Lyngdoh will play ball. This source pointed out that Lyngdoh was unwilling to advance the Andhra Pradesh elections, and the party feared that he would play spoilsport again if the BJP dissolved the Lok Sabha.

Also, this source said the BJP wanted to use the available time to set things right in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, which send 81 and 40 members to the Lok Sabha, respectively. Despite the gains in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the BJP must make a dent in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to substantially increase its present tally of 182 seats.

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Ambrish K Diwanji in New Delhi