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HVK Archives: It is turning out to be Vajpayee - Sonia contest

It is turning out to be Vajpayee - Sonia contest - The Free Press Journal

A. N. Dar ()
February 2, 1998

Author: It is turning out to be Vajpayee - Sonia contest
Author: A. N. Dar
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: February 2, 1998

Is this turning out to be a Vajpayee-Sonia contest? Sonia Gandhi
and Atal Behari Vajpayee are the two main political leaders who
could release waves in this election. Take away the two from
their respective parties and the election arena would be totally
transformed. The parties too would shrink. The Congress without
Sonia Gandhi would, as was happening, be gasping for breath. The
Bharatiya Janata Party without Vajpayee would be dismissed as a
conservative party whose appeal is only to religious values with
little to deal with modernisation.

Yet the two leaders are a deep contrast to each other. Atal
Behari Vajpayee has lifelong political experience behind him. He
has risen to the top-most position in the party through hard work
and ability, literary talent, unmatched eloquence and a grace
rarely noticed in political personalities.

Sonia Gandhi has small individual political standing. She has
until this election kept herself aloof from politics and not
caused any ruffles, whatever her critics may say. She has
inherited the enormous legacy of a great political family. Those
who believe in the Nehru-Gandhi family inheritance are prepared
to make any sacrifice for her. Such is her strength. She is
capable of giving rise to an electoral wave like the one seen in
the times of Indira Gandhi.

No wonder the India Today-ORG-MARG poll gave Vajpayee a
percentage of 27 when the people were asked who would make the
best Prime Minister. Next came Sonia Gandhi with a percentage of
17. This was remarkable because until then Sonia Gandhi had
hardly been a political person. A politician like Jyoti Basu came
up with 2 and Sitaram Kesri 3 and the present Prime Minister 6.
The poll threw overboard the objection of Sonia Gandhi being a
"foreigner" and not speaking fluently an Indian language. This
achievement with a party backing as inefficient and quarrelsome
as the Congress has been in the last many months, was a surprise.

This has not happened in an election before. There used to be
earlier one dominant political personality and the rest carried
on as best as they could. This election has thrown up a new
picture. How is this going to change the political scene?

Vajpayee's leadership has enabled the BJP to take in its ranks
former armed forces officers of a high level, top civil servants
and intellectuals. The attraction has been primarily Vajpayee's
personality. It has given a rare advantage to his party.

Sonia's decision to campaign for the Congress came at a highly
psychological moment, when, under the stress of the expanding BJP
and contradictions within the Congress, it seemed that the party
would be reduced to a skeleton. At this time a letter came from
Sonia Gandhi saying that she would campaign for the Congress.
This totally changed the political situation. It gave new life to
the Congress. The party was transformed overnight.

The exodus stopped and a new spring overtook its cadres. The
party even started thinking of forming a government.

Yet, it would be totally wrong to think that the others, the
regional leaders of other groups, have been left without a role.
It is still possible that when the time comes to form the
government they will call the tune. For instance, if it does
well the BJP will be able to form the government with the support
of its allies, the Shiv Sena. the Akalis, the Haryana Vikas
Party, the AIADMK. At the same time new strains have come into
being. The Samata Party of George Fernandes has aired its old
contradictions that were eating into it since. Surprisingly at a
time when the BJP is in a comfortable position, the Samata Party
has been stressing the differences it faces with the BJP on
several important issues like Ayodhya, Article 370 and the common
civil code. The BJP itself has been feeling the strain within its
own ranks as it tried to get-the support of the minorities and
welcomed some of them into its ranks. George Fernandes of the
Samata Party has expressed his difficulties openly after a long
period borne with silence so much so that the Samata Party-BJP
alliance has become only a question of sharing seats with no
assurances held out for cooperation afterwards. The BJP is not
setting down a common minimum programme.

The candidature of the Prime Minister, Inder Kumar Gujral, has
set off another kind of strain in the non-Congress set-up.
Gujral is being supported by the Akalis who, together with the
BJP, are opposing the United Front. This has created grave
misgivings within the United Front, so much so that one of its
main opponents, the Samajwadi Party, has decided not to support
him in Jalandhar and a condition has been laid down on the Prime
Minister by the United Front that there must be no Akalis
whenever he addresses a meeting in his constituency. Strange that
a Prime Minster has had to accept such a condition. The BJP
clearly is uncomfortable. So are the United Front constituents.
The CPM, one of the leading lights of the United Front, has been
very reluctant to support Gujral's Jalandhar arrangement.

Within the Congress too there have been disturbances. The
political machinery of the Congress expelled Mamata Banerjee when
Sonia Gandhi was trying to keep her within the party-fold. This
made it impossible for Sonia Gandhi to go through the steps
needed to keep Mamata from forming a new party. The Congress
President should have waited to allow Sonia Gandhi and Mamata
Banerjee to get over the differences the latter had with the
Congress outfit. The Congress leadership did worse when a day
after Sonia Gandhi's announcement that she would campaign for the
party the Congress President made known the nomination of three
candidates, including R. K. Dhawan, from Delhi. This was clearly
to say that the Congress President would take decisions without
Sonia Gandhi. The election committee had not even cleared the
names. This was unfair to Sonia Gandhi and was surely designed
to bring her down in the estimate of the cadres. Sitaram Kesri
played a bad hand. His political experience should have told him
that he should not create a crisis.

The Congress clearly has been unfortunate and the BJP lucky in
forming alliances. One reason for this is the late coming into
the field of Sonia Gandhi. Had she come out earlier many groups
would have wanted to hitch their wagon to the Congress star. But
had she come out earlier the party would not have known how
needed she was. The other reason for the effective way the BJP
went into alliance with the regional parties was that the party
has been in fine fettle and, before the coming of Sonia Gandhi,
it was almost sure to become the largest single party in the new
Parliament, capable of forming a government under Atal Behari
Vajpayee. Many regional groups thought that it would be better to
walk along with the BJP.

The BJP showed itself in a desperate hurry to go in for
alliances. It accepted anyone who was around and its ideology and
discipline were given a go-by. Its alliance with the AIADMK's
Jayalalitha has been criticised as proof of the BJP making up
with people with controversial political careers. The BJP has not
satisfactorily been able to explain why it went in for this
alliance. It has of course given the BJP a convenient entry point
into Tamil Nadu. To the extent that Jayalalitha has remarkably
strengthened herself while out of office, this is going to help
the BJP too. Its alliance with Ramakrishna Hegde has created
dissension within the Hegde camp but the BJP has not been placed
in any disadvantage. It has also done well with its alliance
with the BJD in Orissa. These and other alliances are going to
help the BJP if it comes within the winning streak. Whether the
BJP will be in that position will largely depend on how the Sonia
Gandhi wave picks. up. So far it has been better than what she
could have expected.

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