BJP and its options

Print edition : November 29, 1997
in New Delhi

THE Congress' threat to withdraw support to the U.F. Government raised hopes in the BJP of repeating its Uttar Pradesh coup at the Centre.

The BJP leader in Lok Sabha and the Leader of the Opposition, Atal Behari Vajpayee, met President K.R. Narayanan on November 19. While the party did not disclose details of the discussion, it was obvious that the party was keen that it should be invited to form a government if the U.F. Government fell.

BJP leaders sent overtures to the other parties through their allies. Akali Dal leader S.S. Barnala spoke to DMK president M. Karunanidhi in New Delhi and sought the latter's support for a BJP-led government if the U.F. Government fell. Barnala told Frontline: "I have contacted many party leaders, including Karunanidhi. But all of them are playing their cards close to the chest... I do not know whether the DMK will support the BJP if Vajpayee gets an invitation... If the U.F. remains united, I do not see the possibility of the DMK supporting the BJP."

Another ally of the BJP, Samata Party leader George Fernandes, was in touch with Congress(I) dissidents. Samata Party leader Jaya Jaitley told Frontline: "Many Congress MPs are nervous. They are not sure whether to face the polls by pinning their hopes on Sonia Gandhi. The BJP does not appear to be untouchable any longer and, under a common agreed programme, the BJP will not be all-powerful."

The BJP criticised the Jain Commission's statement that the "assassination of Rajiv Gandhi would not have been possible ... without the deep nexus of LTTE operatives with the Tamils in Tamil Nadu." BJP general secretary M. Venkaiah Naidu echoed Karunanidhi's remarks and said the Commission's "injudicious comments" amounted to describing the people of an entire State "anti-national and pro-LTTE." BJP leaders said that the party's strong stand against the Commission's report would make it a "natural ally" of the DMK if the U.F. failed to remain united.

Karunanidhi told reporters in Chennai on November 21 that "reports that the DMK would support the formation of a BJP government in the event of the U.F. Government falling had no basis at all."

BJP leaders seemed hopeful that the President would explore the possibility of forming another Government if the U.F. Government collapsed. They considered the formation of a national government led by the BJP as one possibility. They believed that if power was within the BJP's reach, it should use "all means" to achieve a majority. They admitted, however, that no MP from the Congress or the U.F. had approached the BJP with offers of support.

Vajpayee's meeting with former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao led to speculation that Narasimha Rao, along with MPs belonging to the Sharad Pawar group, may break away from the Congress and back the BJP's bid to form a government. However, both Narasimha Rao and Pawar denied the reports. BJP leaders kept saying that "all options" were open.

The BJP submitted three notices to Lok Sabha Speaker P.A. Sangma for discussion under the Lok Sabha Rule No. 184 - on the Jain Commission, the role of the U.P. Governor and the demand for his recall, and the political and economic situation in the northeastern States. The party was hoping that debates on these issues would sharpen the divide between the Congress(I) and the U.F. as Rule 184 provides for voting on the motions. However, with the adjournment of the session on November 19 and 20 following the Congress' refusal to allow a debate on the Jain Commission's Interim Report, the BJP's game plan seemed to have gone awry.

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