TAMIL NADU

Hectic parleys on poll dates

NEW DELHI, DEC. 27.

The announcement of dates for the Assembly polls has triggered off hectic activity within the major political set-up in Delhi. In fact, a thinking seems to be going on within the Congress to opt for the MCD polls sometime around the elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab but before the declaration of results in these States. A final decision is expected to be taken shortly.

A strong lobby within the Congress is of the view that the party should opt for MCD polls sometime in February, itself instead of March as the party would be in a better position to capitalise on the anti-BJP mood in these States. The Sheila Dikshit Government also has to hold the polls to the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee before March 15 or face contempt proceedings. In fact, the meeting between the Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, and the Chief Minister on Wednesday is being seen as a step in this direction.

An important meeting has been convened by Ms. Sheila Dikshit, for Friday to decide on the election strategy to be adopted by the party. The Finance Minister, Mr. Mahinder Singh Saathi, and the Industry and Election Minister, Mr. Deep Chand Bandhu, along with senior officials would be taking part in the meeting. It is believed as the DSGMC elections are purely an ``internal matter'' of the community and are not fought on party basis, it would be better to hold them also in February itself.

The rationale behind the timing of elections to the Sikh body is that if these are held sometime in February, it would not be possible for the Akali Dal (Badal), which is presently in control of the DSGMC, to divert men, money and material for Punjab Assembly elections as has been done before. This would deprive the Akali Dal (Badal) of a major advantage and it would have to struggle in the absence of support from the Sikh bodies in Delhi. The ruling party MLAs and the Akali Dal (Tohra) faction have time and again expressed fears that the DSGMC could divert gurdwara funds for elections of Badal group in Punjab.

It is felt that although the party has a bright chance in Punjab and Uttaranchal, it was on a sticky wicket in Uttar Pradesh. The best option would be to opt for MCD polls, whatever may be the status of the elections, during the Assembly polls itself. Many are of the view that any adverse outcome in the Uttar Pradesh could have a negative impact in Delhi and thus it would be better to hold polls along with the Assembly elections. It is felt that polls in U P have been spread over three days and the counting is scheduled to be held on February 24. The period between the counting and that of the last day of polls in Uttar Pradesh -- February 21 -- would be the ideal period to hold polls in Delhi. Another thinking going on within the ruling party is that it could opt for polls some time in March as Assembly poll victories under its belt and a better show in Uttar Pradesh would certainly boost its chances in the Capital.

But here again, it is believed that some partymen are of the view that this would not be a viable option as the strong anti-BJP resentment is likely to wane after the Assembly polls and the Congress could find itself pitted against a strong opponent in the MCD polls. This theory is further strengthened from the fact that the ruling party is badly divided in Delhi and that could prove to be its undoing.