Today's Paper

Vajpayee seeks larger mandate

NEW DELHI MARCH 30. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) today held a meeting of "select" top leaders to virtually announce that it plans to get its act together and put the ruling coalition into top gear for the general elections due next year.

It seems the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, told the meeting of leaders of seven NDA constituents and the Bharatiya Janata Party's leaders in the Government and the organisation that the ruling coalition needed a "larger mandate". It must take full advantage of the "feel good factor" to move towards that goal in the next election.

Although it is the BJP which will be facing crucial Assembly elections this year in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Delhi where the NDA does not count, it seems that the party leadership wants to ensure that lack of cohesion in the NDA does not mar its own prospects even as it wants to start preparing in earnest for the bigger battle in 2004. The defeat in Himachal Pradesh and the Congress conclave and rally here seems to have unnerved the BJP somewhat.

Thus, it was at the suggestion of the BJP president, Venkaiah Naidu, that a large number of BJP leaders met with the top NDA brass at Mr. Vajpayee's residence for a day-long brainstorming session. At the meeting, party leaders attacked the Congress for claiming to represent the poor and for its "double speak".

It was felt that although the NDA Government led by Mr. Vajpayee had "many achievements" to its credit, it could not afford to sit back and celebrate. Most importantly, the NDA must present itself as a cohesive force speaking in one voice. And all the parties would have to work hard to ensure that the "perception of the people'' about the Government was the same as the NDA's own self-assessment that the Vajpayee Government had progressed rapidly on many fronts.

The NDA leaders present at the meeting were: George Fernandes and Nitish Kumar (both Samata Party), Sharad Yadav (JD-U), T.R. Baalu (DMK), Prakash Paranjape (Shiv Sena), Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Om Prakash Chautala (INLD) and Prakash Singh Badal (Akali Dal).

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