July 05, 2020
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The Two Bugbears

The party now trains its guns on the President and the CEC

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The Two Bugbears
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THE polite talk is over. Its debacle over the past month seems to have driven the bjp to a point where two individuals have become the focus of all its ire-President K.R. Narayanan and Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill. The fact that both men hold high constitutional office hasn't deterred some bjp office-bearers from launching a scathing tirade against them, even as the top brass reserves direct criticism for "off-the-record" asides. But one thing the bjp is convinced of: that the duo is out to do the dirty on them.

Take the brouhaha over the Election Commission's decision to go for a September poll. It was clear within 24 hours of Gill's arrival in Delhi in April last week, that any poll schedule other than the one in June would be unpalatable to the bjp-led coalition. First on the offence was defence minister George Fernandes. When Gill announced a meeting with political parties on May 3, Fernandes told reporters that the "delay" in calling the meeting indicated his disinterest in a June poll. Others, including Chandrababu Naidu (who said the "cec seems to have already made up his mind"), Hegde and Mamata, lent their voice to bjp general-secretary Venkaiah Naidu's daily insistence that "June was best". None could deny the bjp's right to hold its own point of view, however aggressively it was propagated. But the problem arose when it crossed the fine line between pressure and intimidation.

A line which many believe was breached by the prime minister himself, when in an interview to Outlook he said he preferred a "June election and (that) the EC should come to the same decision". Nirvachan Sadan wasn't amused. EC officials pointed out that the Commission, being an independent body, found this sort of pressure "unacceptable". What they also objected to was that while the party was within its rights to demand a June poll, its leaders could have qualified it by saying they'd abide by whatever the EC decides, like the Opposition did while stating their preference. "Some may think it only a matter of form, but it's crucial to convey the message that the Commission is the final, independent authority in such a situation," says a former EC official. Undeterred, bjp vice-president J.P. Mathur said: "All I can say is if the EC, which keeps claiming it's always ready for elections, needed more than two months it shows its inefficiency."

When Gill did announce a September poll, the party seemed reconciled to it as party spokesmen claimed that despite their preference for June, a later poll would suit them just as much. But not for long. A senior bjp office-bearer, while speaking to Outlook, virtually warned the EC against announcing the poll schedule (usually five to seven days before the formal notification), which signals the onset of the model code of conduct, before August. "We won't shy away from a confrontation. If he (Gill) advances the dates we'll take the issue to the people." Already there's a vicious whisper campaign against Gill-that he encouraged Arjun Singh's bid to get the bjp derecognised by the EC. Critics in the bjp, who refuse to be named, insinuate that "friends in the Congress" are influencing his decision-making.

Then there's Narayanan, who others consider among the finest presidents of the Republic but whom the bjp views as the "root of all trouble" in having asked Vajpayee to face a confidence vote. So what if they'd eulogised him as a "champion of democracy" when he sent back a recommendation for central rule in UP to the Gujral cabinet?

Now barbs are flowing thick and fast. bjp sympathisers like journalist Cho Ramaswamy have been at their wittiest best-"the President has been both correct and compassionate-correct with the bjp and compassionate with the Congress". A "restrained" Vajpayee it was again who made the most damaging remarks in an interview to the rss-affiliated Panchjanya. "The President acted under pressure (from the Congress-Left Opposition)," said he while terming Narayanan's asking him to face a confidence motion a "serious matter". Sunday magazine profiled the President as "the most controversial president since Zail Singh", while vhp sympathisers in the bjp are now reminding colleagues of their campaign against Narayanan when he was to be elected president (saying that Rashtrapati Bhawan will be converted into a "hotbed of Christianity"). "Congress agent", "Left sympathiser" are other milder descriptions the President has invited.

So is the bjp being a bad loser? "Even if they are constitutional authorities, we'll oppose them if they behave dishonestly. Meekness isn't our way when we're so clearly in the right," asserts abjp leader. That, one would think, is the least of bjp's problems.

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