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Congress, BJP prepare for D-Day

By George Iype in New Delhi
May 12, 2004 18:22 IST
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A day before the counting of votes, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress on Wednesday held meetings to prepare for the Lok Sabha election result.

Both parties cancelled their daily press conferences, as no one wanted to speculate about the poll results, especially in the light of the assembly verdict in Andhra Pradesh.

Both parties are talking to regional players to ensure that they are able to succeed in the number game in case of a hung Parliament.

The Congress team, set up by party president Sonia Gandhi, comprises Dr Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh, Ahmed Patel, Ambika Soni, Natwar Singh, R K Dhawan, Kamal Nath and Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Congress officials say Arjun Singh and Natwar Singh have been asked to talk to Samajwadi Party president and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

The team has also been asked to ensure that the BJP leadership does not "poach" any party that has agreed to join a Congress-led coalition.

The BJP team include top leaders like Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani, Finance Minister Jaswant Singh, party president M Venkaiah Naidu and second-rung leaders Pramod Mahajan, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley.

Assisting them is National Democratic Alliance convenor and Defence Minister George Fernandes. Fernandes and Mahajan are said to be in touch with the SP to lure the most powerful regional player from UP.

The BJP leaders are thinking of what to do in case the NDA fails the touch the halfway mark of 272.

One section argues that the party should not offer to form government if the coalition does not get even 250 seats. But leaders like Mahajan insist that a government led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee must be formed, irrespective of the number the party gets.

The BJP also thinks that if the NDA does not secure a simple majority, a Congress-led coalition would not take off. "They will be fighting among themselves once the results are out," a BJP leader commented.

The BJP believes that if the Congress insists that Gandhi be made PM, the opposition unity will break up and leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar will join the NDA.

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George Iype in New Delhi