NATIONAL

BJP undecided on fielding CMs

NEW DELHI OCT. 10. One dilemma faced by the Bharatiya Janata Party is whether or not to make its chief ministerial candidates in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan contest the Assembly polls on December 1. So far, the party has not been able to make up its mind. The general secretary in-charge of elections, Pramod Mahajan, indicated this on Thursday and today, the party spokesperson, Prakash Javadekar, reiterated that "No decision has been taken as yet" and indicated that a decision would be taken by the time nominations began on November 7.

Apparently, there are two views in the party. One, that Madan Lal Khurana (Delhi), Uma Bharti (Madhya Pradesh) and Vasundhara Raje (Rajasthan), who are all MPs, should not be asked to contest the Assembly polls as that would tie them down to one constituency. Two, that they should contest as, otherwise, it would send the wrong political signal that they are not serious chief ministerial candidates.

Some leaders are of the view that not making them contest would leave them free to devote their time and energy to all the constituencies in their States without having to worry about managing their own constituency. Once the party wins the elections, getting any MLA to vacate a seat to allow the chief ministerial candidate to contest will not be a problem. Also, if the party does not win, then the BJP does not lose an MP.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that if the chief ministerial candidates are not made to contest, it may give the Opposition a handle. It could send the signal that the candidates are themselves not sure about winning the elections and are, therefore, shy of contesting the polls.

In the 1998 Assembly elections in Delhi, Sushma Swaraj was made to contest after she replaced Sahib Singh Verma as the Chief Minister months before the elections. The party lost the elections and Ms. Swaraj resigned her Assembly seat, which she won, to retain the Lok Sabha seat. That episode sent a wrong political signal to the people of Delhi. The party wants to avoid making that mistake again.

Mr. Javadekar said that whatever decision was taken on this issue would apply to all the three chief ministerial candidates (the BJP has not yet identified its chief ministerial candidate in the fourth State, Chhattisgarh). He dismissed the view that not contesting would send a wrong message, pointing out that this has been the common practice.