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Survival of BJP in jeopardy
By P.M. Damodaran, Lucknow

Rumours are doing round in the political circles in the state capital Lucknow that the Bharatiya Janata Party may opt for early Assembly elections in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, perhaps some time later this year. The reason: the BJP fears that the Ayodhya issue may adversely affect its prospects in the polls if they are held after Shivratri in February next year, the time set by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to start the construction of Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

The thinking in a certain section of the BJP leadership is that after February next year, a confrontation is likely between the VHP and the government on the Ayodhya issue. The party apprehends that Ayodhya may inevitably become an issue in the elections if they are held after February next year. Apparently if we go by the government's stand, it will wait to act till the court gives verdict in the case and the verdict may not come at least in a couple of years' time. The government thus may not allow the VHP to take the law into its hands and start the temple construction. This may displease the Hindu fundamentalists who may go against the BJP in the elections if they are held after February.

On the part of the VHP, it can no more extend the date for the starting of the construction of the temple. In fact the work on the construction of the temple is already in full swing both in Karsewakpuram in Ayodhya and in Rajasthan. The sants are already angry over the delay in the temple construction. They allege that the VHP is playing politics on the temple issue and is acting on the dictates of the BJP government. On the part of the government, it can not go out of way to help the VHP in the temple construction due to coalition politics.

The BJP had used the Ayodhya issue to its advantage in the elections during the past over a decade. In fact it was this issue which had helped the BJP, which had only two members in the Lok Sabha in the 1984 elections to become a major political force in the country. But now the BJP is apparently at the receiving end.

Another reason for advancing the Assembly elections in U.P. is that the BJP wants to exploit the gains claimed to have been accrued due to the good governance of the Rajnath Singh government in the state. This had come after the lacklustre performance of the government of the former chief minister Mr. Ram Prakash Gupta. But the BJP now fears that its government may not sustain this good image any more and prefers early elections.

The BJP obviously does not want to take any risks in the Assembly polls in U.P, which is considered as its stronghold, after the drubbing it and its allies had received in the elections in five states in May this year. The BJP had been maintaining that there was no cause for worry for the party in the results in the five states as the party was no force to reckon with in those states. The BJP had even challenged the Congress, which had been rejoicing at its success in the May elections, to do well in U.P. asserting that its hold is very much intact in this crucial state.

The BJP knows the importance of the Assembly elections in U.P. Its failure to retain power in the state will have its impact in Gujarat and Punjab, which are also going to the polls later next year. Moreover, the party's failure in U.P. may result in a realignment of political forces in the country affecting the very stability of the Vajpayee government at the centre.

In fact, the Assembly elections in U.P. are due in October this year. The last Assembly elections in the state were held in October 1996 and the House was constituted in the same month. But due to a split verdict, no government could be formed till March 1997 when the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party joined hands to form a coalition ministry and the first sitting of the House was held in March 1997 only. The state government and the Election Commission maintain that since the first session of the House was held in March 1997, its life will be for five years till March 2002. There are, however, cases pending in the courts praying for the holding of elections before October this year itself on the ground that the House was constituted in October 1996. The ruling party also wants to get prepared itself to face the elections this year itself if the court rejects the contention of the state government that the elections are due only in March next year. 

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