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Cong poll defeat gives BJP the limelight and Gowda respite - The Indian Express

Neerja Chowdhury ()
13 February 1997

Title : Cong poll defeat gives BJP the limelight and Gowda respite
Author : Neerja Chowdhury
Publication : The Indian Express
Date : February 13, 1997

The recently concluded by polls and Punjab elections could be a
watershed in the country's political life. They mark the end of
the Kesri story (in so far as his prime ministerial journey is
concerned). They signal 'Advantage BJP' all the way and could
herald the beginning of the end of the party's untouchability. And
they give breathing space to H D Deve Gowda, whose continuation as
Prime Minister had become a question mark ever since Kesri took

The immediate fallout of the Punjab victory is Rely to be felt by
the BJP in the forthcoming municipal polls in Delhi. The party is
expected to consolidate its hold amongst the Sikhs who voted for it
in Punjab bemuse of its tie-up with the Akalis. The Sikhs as a
community win now veer towards the BJP - their votes also matter in
states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra - and that is a
major gain for the party.

The BJP has gained at the expense of the Congress. This is true of
Chhindwara, where Sunderlal Patwa defeated Kamal Nath in what
became a 'no holds barred' battle between the Congress and the BJP
with over 100 MLAs out campaigning on both sides. It is true of
Nagaur, where Bhairon Singh Shekhawat's cleverly crafted strategy
of denting the Jat base of the Congress paid off.

In Punjab, contrary to the Congress' hopes, the Hindus deserted the
Congress. The Congress leadership replaced the chief minister, PCC
chief and the Assembly Speaker weeks before the polls, and all
three of them were Jat Sikhs.

But what is more important, the runaway victory of the Akali-BJP
combine could force retaking in regional parties about the BJP in
the weeks to come, particularly amongst those who are not arrayed
against it in the states - provided the situation deteriorates.
The BJP leadership is now quite clear that it has to go in for
tie-ups with other parties to become a serious contender for Delhi.

Fortune is smiling on Gowda once again, though there are some
jarring notes in the victory symphony. The Janata Dal has lost
Ramanagara which was held by Gowda as Chief Minister. But for the
moment Gowda is more concerned about protecting the Delhi throne
from the adversary's onslaught.

The elections result have helped him because it has demoralised the
Congress. Punjab was bad enough for the Congress. Though the party
was expected to lose, it was reduced to a paltry 14 Assembly seats.
But after its defeat in Chhindwara and Nagaur, the Congress will
find it very difficult to continue with the sabre rattling it has
been engaged in the last two months. Congress MPs will not allow
their leadership to do anything that might trigger off a general

These two constituencies m Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, considered
'Congress states', have never rejected the Congress, not even
during the anti-Congress hurricane which swept the northern planes
in 1977, and threw Indira Gandhi out of power. For Kamal Nath now,
losing the constituency he nursed over the years by 37,000 votes is
a clear message by the voter that he will not be taken for granted.
Essentially, the vote against the Congress, both in Punjab and
Chhindwara, is a verdict against the arrogance of power.

Congressmen are not kind to losers and exploratory exercises are
already underway for forging new equations in the party. Many more
Congress MPs are now looking to Pawar, and much will depend on how
the party fares in the local elections in Maharashtra later this
month. Similarly, Arjun Singh and Madhav Rao Scindia might gain
with Digvijay Singh coming under flak in Madhya Pradesh.

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