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When the poll bells toll

With the N-deal under its belt, the Congress appears to be in very high spirits. Indications are that it is now actively considering early Lok Sabha polls, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2008 23:05 IST
Pankaj Vohra

With the nuclear deal under its belt, the Congress appears to be in very high spirits. Indications are that it is now actively considering early Lok Sabha polls. The polls are due in April-May 2008 and the original plan was that they should be held on time. But a strong section within the party is of the view that the appropriate time has arrived and there is no point in postponing the decision. Inflation and prices are virtually going to be the same whether the polls are held in December or later and this is not a reason good enough to push the decision for a later date.

At the last meeting of the extended working committee held in mid-September, the issue had come up and both views for and against early elections were discussed. The top Congress leadership had essentially used the occasion to assess the situation without giving out its own mind.

The idea was to ascertain what members of the extended Congress Working Committee (CWC) think about the polls. Now that the nuclear deal is through and the party is already in a poll mode, it could be moving in the directions of early elections shortly.

There is a sizeable section within the Congress that believes that if the party was to lose the assembly polls in six states that are due in November-December, its cadres will be very demoralised by the time of the Lok Sabha elections. Simultaneous polls in the states could help the party humble its main adversary, the BJP, which is in power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, three of the election-bound states. The BJP will be on the backfoot as it will be trying to defend its citadels and its aggression, it is felt, will not be all that focused.

There is another logic, which is being talked about in Congress circles. The Parliament session has been convened on October 17 and is expected to be turbulent with so many issues in the hands of the Opposition to beat the government with. Prices and inflation along with deteriorating law and order have not helped the UPA's cause even if law and order is a state subject.

Attacks on Christians, resentment among Muslims, the mishandling of the J&K situation and the overall perception of poor governance are other matters the government will find difficult to defend itself. The Left and BJP will vociferously oppose the signing of the deal and could even bring in a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha.

The best available option, according to a section of the Congress, is that dissolution of the House will take the Opposition by surprise and attention will shift to the polls rather than to some of these issues that will get raised when the campaign is underway.

Sonia Gandhi's rally at Panipat on Thursday could also influence a decision towards an early poll. Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was able to gather several lakh people at a short notice and this is being seen as support for the party.

Otherwise too, the Congress president is already touring various parts of the country and making speeches that indicate that polls are around the corner. It is certain that the Congress will have Manmohan Singh as its mascot when it goes into elections sooner or later.

Those opposing the move comprise mostly seasoned partymen who feel that the Congress shouldn't make the mistake of going for early elections like its predecessor. The mandate is till May 2009 and there should be no tearing hurry to let it slip away early. Between us.