Election Results -
Results a verdict against BJP: Sonia
AHMEDABAD, FEB. 24. The Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, won the Rajkot-II Assembly seat but could not save the ruling BJP from the blushes, as it lost the other two seats to the Congress, the byelections for which were held on February 21. The three seats were earlier held by the BJP.
While Mr. Modi won with a margin of 14,728 votes, the Congress secured the Sayajiganj seat in Baroda city and Mahuva in Surat from the BJP with margins of 22,543 and 12,695 votes respectively. The former BJP Minister, Jaspal Singh, who resigned from the party and the Assembly and caused the Sayajiganj byelection, contested as a Samajwadi Party nominee, but lost his deposit.
Mr. Modi's victory will spare Gujarat of a possible political upheaval, but the margin which was just about half of the over 27,000 plus votes with which the BJP had won the seat in the 1998 elections, and the loss of the two other seats to the Congress would be a matter of concern for the ruling party. The party's defeat in Sayajiganj and Mahuva also indicate that the change of leadership effected by the BJP high command four months ago has not yet helped in reversing the anti-BJP sentiments.
The Congress, after its overwhelming victories in the district, taluka panchayats and municipal corporations in September, 2000, and in the Sabarkantha parliamentary and Sabarmati Assembly byelections last year, is in an upbeat mood.
The BJP celebrated Mr. Modi's win by taking out processions both in Rajkot and at the party's State headquarters here.The results have demonstrated total polarisation of votes in favour of the BJP and the Congress, as all the remaining 32 candidates in the three constituencies, including the nominees of the Nationalist Congress Party, the Samajwadi Party and the independents fared badly and all lost their deposits.
The election brought almost a rout of the Bharatiya Janata Party which lost the number one position in the State's politics to the Samajwadi Party. The BJP and its allies together were expecting to get 110 seats in a house of 403. The Samajwadi Party, with a leading position in nearly 150 constituencies has emerged at the top but was yet far away from a clear majority.
The most surprising aspect of the election was, however, the unexpected gains for the Bahujan Samaj Party which was leading in nearly 95 constituencies as the situation emerged this evening.The Congress was leading in about 25 constituencies and others in nearly 30 constituencies as last results came in.
NEW DELHI, FEB. 24. The Bharatiya Janata Party leadership was today counting its electoral losses and getting ready to do some stocktaking at the parliamentary board meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening. Party leaders also gathered informally at the residence of the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, this evening, but that was more like a condolence meeting.
The comment by the party president, Jana Krishnamurthi, said it all: ``We respect the people's verdict.'' Tomorrow the BJP leaders will again meet at Mr. Vajpayee's residence where they may be joined by some of the State leaders. A re-scheduled meeting of National Democratic Alliance leaders will also take place at Mr. Vajpayee's residence late tomorrow evening to discuss the poll outcome and prepare for the stormy budget session ahead.
In Uttar Pradesh, where the emergence of the Samajwadi Party as the front-runner seemed certain, the BJP's public stance was that it will not try to form a hotch-potch government as that would erode whatever was left of the party's base by the time Lok Sabha elections are held two years from now.
The view gaining ground is that the party should sit in the Opposition. The wider than expected gap between the Samajwadi Party's numbers and those of the BJP alliance has led the party to reconcile to a ``first invitation'' from the Governor to the SP leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav. But the BJP is banking on the SP being unable to form a government, even with the support of the Congress.
Senior party leaders here are convinced that the State may be heading for President's rule. But that does not at all rule out the possibility of the party trying to form a government with the Bahujan Samaj Party at a later date, after the SP is unable to convert its ``first chance'' into a government.
Senior leaders in the party and the Government have indicated that the BJP was not about to jump to support a BSP Government of Ms. Mayawati. ``If she is willing to do business she should contact us and come up with a formula, but as of now our view is that the Chief Minister, Rajnath Singh, should either get the Chief Minister's position or that of the Leader of the Opposition.''
By late afternoon it had become clear that the BJP was faced with a debacle everywhere. Even in Gujarat, virtually its only surviving major State Government, the party won only the seat contested by the Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, but lost the other two byelections to the Congress.
The victory of the Congress in Punjab has come as no surprise to the BJP, but what has hurt it is that despite a high profile campaign by the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister it was able to win only three Assembly segments against the 22 contested and 17 seats held in the last Assembly.
In Uttaranchal its last minute gamble of changing its Chief Minister has not helped, although it may have cut down the margin of the Congress victory. The one-year BJP rule has only helped the Congress to emerge as a major force.
The trends from Manipur also indicate that the party has been cut to size where not so long ago it had destabilised a government headed by its partner, the Samata Party, and had even asserted that it would try and form a government with the help of defections. The Home Ministry's `Naga ceasefire accord' had finished whatever political ground the party may have covered.
As for Uttar Pradesh, despite nearly a dozen allies, it was fighting with the BSP for the second place - the party's own strength could end up just about a few seats more or less than the BSP's tally.Party leaders are now admitting that it was a big mistake not to have replaced Ram Prakash Gupta with Rajnath Singh as Chief Minister much earlier. Party leaders are crediting Mr. Singh with preventing a humiliating rout with less than 50 seats.
Developments in Ayodhya
VIJAYAWADA, FEB. 24. In a surprise development, the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, air-dashed to Gannavaram airport here today and closeted with the Kanchi seer, Jayendra Saraswati, for 40 minutes. The details of the meeting were not known.
The Kanchi swami came by special aircraft from Salem to Gannavaram airport and went to Guntur by road for Vigrahapratisha in a temple there tomorrow.The Defence Minister who was going from Delhi to Chennai to attend the marriage of the grandson of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, M. Karunanidhi, tomorrow broke his journey at Gannavaram half-an-hour before the arrival of swami's flight. After the swami arrived they both went into the VIP lounge and spent 40 minutes even as a few devotees like Maganti Subramanyam, T.V.A.S. Sarma, G.S. Raju and G. Ganga Raju waited outside curiously. The swami later came out, blessed the waiting devotees and went to Guntur by road. Asked for a message for Vijayawada, the swami smiled and said ``My arrival itself is a message''. Later, Mr. Fernandes left for Chennai by his special flight.
AYODHYA, FEB. 24. Lallu Singh, former Uttar Pradesh Power Minister and MLA for Ayodhya has retained his seat. But in Karsevakpuram, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's sanitised compound, this made no impact. Here all talk is of a Ram temple. And Mr. Singh's victory, according to locals, had nothing to do with the VHP's Ram temple campaign and everything to do with the improved power situation in the constituency.
The VHP's top leadership was gathered here for the Ram nam purna ahuti yajna, and the de facto commencement of the build-up to the March 15 deadline for the construction of the temple, announced during its Chetavani Yatra last month. Against the sound of chanting amplified on a public address system, the VHP's Ashok Singhal repeated his organisation's determination to proceed with the construction on that date.
Mr. Singhal, said that the VHP was asking for the return of ``undisputed land'' and that the ``Supreme Court has said should this be returned to its original owners''. Mr. Singhal said there was no confusion on the issue, but that the Prime Minister was ``creating confusion in this matter...when we are not talking about the disputed land...why is he talking about it...unless he expects some political profit from it?''
Sant Paramhans, head of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, known for his dramatic threats said that he did not want ``violence or anything that could result in the fall of the Vajpayee's Government'' since he could not see a better alternative to it.
He however added forcefully that carved pillars for the temple, currently in the workshop near Karsevakpuram, would be taken to the construction site on March 15 and that ``...if sadhus and sants are arrested the Government will fall''.
As the sant and Mr. Singhal thundered at the gathered presspersons, some few hundred Bajrang Dal activists in their trademark saffron bandanas and a larger number of elderly women from Andhra Pradesh, North Bihar and Gwalior sat in the blazing sun waiting their turn to add their offering to the yajna fire. They were part of the VHP-estimated 10,000 people who are the start of what is effectively a relay - with the same number arriving and leaving everyday - of pilgrims, Ramsevaks and tourists brought to the town by the VHP's regional network until March 15.The VHP has organised tent accommodation for some 20,000 people. Five kitchens at the site provide them their meals. Their only connection with the town is a one-km. walk from Karsevakpuram to the heavily barricaded site where their hosts hope to build a temple. For all this apparent activity, the strangely silent streets of Ayodhya remain so.
Editorial Comment on militarism
THE UNTENABLE ESCALATION of clearly militaristic strategy by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and his `brains trust' is pushing India inexorably towards a qualitatively new crisis in its dangerously estranged relationship with Pakistan. It is indeed amazing that New Delhi hardly cites a convincing reason why it cannot take steps that could de-escalate the current tensions. The Vajpayee administration has consistently ignored all sensible calls for a pullback of the Indian military units which were deployed within striking distance of Pakistan in the context of the heinous terrorist attack on Parliament House in New Delhi on December 13. Not only that. The Prime Minister's growing penchant for polemical anti-Pakistan rhetoric has only managed to scale up the temperature on the bilateral front without actually advancing India's anti-terror cause. The forward-deployment of India's military personnel and assets along the border with Pakistan was portrayed as the prime element of pressure-diplomacy. If the political logic of that deployment in a strike-threatening formation was to unnerve Islamabad, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, appears to have neatly turned the tables on New Delhi. Gen. Musharraf has banned two key Pakistan-based terrorist organisations — the Jaish-e-Mohammad and the Lashkar-e-Taiba, both `jehadi' outfits — which were implicated in the attack on India's Parliament. Now, Gen. Musharraf argues that his action has had nothing to do with any external pressure (from either the U.S. or India) and that he has acted solely in Pakistan's own enlightened self-interest. New Delhi itself does not openly acknowledge the ban on the two networks as a beneficial spin-off effect of its ``coercive diplomacy''. Is it not unwise of India to disregard the ban and portray it as a dubious step or as a matter of peripheral implications?
Mr. Vajpayee has indeed locked himself in a posture of incremental militarism by ratcheting up his rhetoric and by appearing to take little note of the dangerous drift implicit in a fierce standoff on the India-Pakistan frontier. He has voiced some dark hints about New Delhi's own capabilities to foment ``internal trouble'' for Pakistan even while asserting that any interference of this order in the domestic affairs of Pakistan ``is not our policy, not our style''. Yet, the overall militant language, even if devoid of any intended policy thrust, is patently absurd on two major counts. First, India may now become a focal point of the needless attention of some terror-watch activists on the international stage. Second, the Prime Minister's political bluster will further fracture India's already fragile relationship with Pakistan.
Having failed to draw up a meaningful exit strategy even at the time of massing India's troops on the border with Pakistan - a step that prompted Islamabad to act in a similar fashion - the Vajpayee administration now finds itself at odds with serious international opinion. New Delhi's ostensible strategic purpose and political objective were to induce Pakistan to extradite or deport 20 identified terrorists/criminals and to end cross-border terrorism that has been of deep concern to India. Of these, cross-border terrorism is an issue that can only be monitored over a relatively long timeframe, while Gen. Musharraf is now reported to have offered to discuss the 20 names as part of a renewable India-Pakistan dialogue on a range of issues. If New Delhi's plan all along has been to avoid a war with Pakistan despite the forward-deployment, it is high time for de-escalation. There is no place for simplistic assertions of the kind being made by the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, that India can easily cope with the uncertainties on the border.------------------------------------------------------------------------