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Sunday, September 02, 2001

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Self-centred?

IT IS a topic which is often discussed in BJP circles, not publicly but privately: It is the survival of Government at the Centre, led by Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, for the full five-year term till 2004, which is of critical importance. If the BJP State units have to be sacrificed, so be it.

Not many expect Mr. Vajpayee to contest another election after this Lok Sabha's term ends in 2004. He would be nearing 80 then. The view is that Mr. Vajpayee is so, so cool about what happens to the party in the States because he has little stake once his own innings is over.

The BJP State unit fought hard not to go along with the Janata Dal in the Karnataka Assembly elections two years ago, but was over-ruled. Even a Venkaiah Naidu could not make the Prime Minister change his mind, for he was more worried about the Lok Sabha numbers than what the BJP may gain or lose in Karnataka.

The West Bengal unit, especially its former president, Mr. Tapan Sikdar, was hardly enamoured of Calcutta's Queen of the Poor, Ms. Mamata Banerji, and had warned his party that she was most unreliable. But after walking out of the NDA just before the West Bengal Assembly polls leaving the BJP to twiddle its thumbs, Ms. Banerji is back.

During the recent Assam Assembly elections, the BJP State unit once again found itself protesting in futility against an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad. The result of the Centre's insistence on going with a discredited AGP was that the BJP's support base built over years of hard work has almost vanished. The love affair with the AGP is dead.

The Centre did not mind when the BJP's oldest ally, the Shiv Sena, heaped scorn and abuse on it. The Government did not bat an eyelid when the Samata Party acted up and played out the farce about a ``re-unification'' of the old socialists under the Janata Dal (United) banner, but then prevented that from happening. It could not have cared less when the Janata Dal suffered a split and Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan floated his own outfit, the Lok Jan Shakti (there was enough room for all the splinter groups in the NDA). It looked the other way when Mr. Ramakrishna Hegde of the Lok Shakti was shortchanged by his own `socialist' friends and left out of the Cabinet (that was an `internal' matter). Only one thing mattered. The NDA numbers in the Lok Sabha. And the PMK was allowed to ``re-enter'' the NDA without waiting for a nod from the DMK. (Where could a defeated DMK go, and if it tried to act up, the Centre could always cosy up to the AIADMK).

The next Lok Sabha poll is nearly three years away, and it is difficult to say how the BJP will fare. But what is obvious is that the party has lost one Assembly election after another and its voter support base has been reduced in several key States.

An electoral disaster may be awaiting the BJP and its partner, the Akali Dal, in Punjab. In Uttar Pradesh, the BJP is trying every trick to prevent a humiliation, and whenever elections do take place in Gujarat, it will surprise everyone if the Keshubhai Government remains unscathed.

The BJP Chief Ministers have become an endangered species, and by the time the next Lok Sabha polls are held many fear the species could be extinct. But is Mr. Vajpayee worried? Why should he be? He is already the longest lasting non-Congress Prime Minister, and he is happy.

- N.V.

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