Debating India


The battle in Lucknow

Saturday 25 September 1999

ON September 16, two days after Dr. Karan Singh filed his nomination as the Congress(I) candidate in Lucknow, where Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is contesting, the Bharatiya Janata Party effected a significant change in its campaign machinery for the constituency. Former Delhi Chief Minister Madan Lal Khurana was brought in place of senior State leader and Urban Development Minister Lalji Tandon as the chief campaign manager to the Prime Minister.

By no yardstick was this change motivated by an assessment that Karan Singh was posing a major challenge to Vajpayee. BJP general secretary K.N. Govindacharya said that his party’s assessment of Karan Singh’s candidature was that "but for the theatrics o f matching Vajpayee shloka for shloka and shair for shair, the Congress(I) cannot hope to gain anything from this contest." However, the BJP leadership did have other things to worry about: complacency, and doubts about the si ncerity of a section of party workers in campaigning for Vajpayee.

By all indications, Tandon was seen as one of those who might give room for overconfidence; the far more serious suspicion related, however, to leaders who were perceived to be close to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. The fact that Kalyan Sing h was not seen to be taking an active part in the BJP’s campaign in general had heightened these apprehensions.

In 1998, Vajpayee won from Lucknow by a majority of 2.16 lakh votes. According to Rajesh Pandey, Member of the Legislative Council and the media manager of Vajpayee’s campaign in Lucknow, "the effort this time is to give him a bigger margin, one fit for a Prime Minister who had led the country bravely through troubled times."

The principal themes in the BJP’s campaign rhetoric are: Kargil, Vajpayee’s indispensability as an "able Prime Minister" at this juncture in India’s history, and his political experience, posited against Congress(I) president Sonia Gandhi’s inexperience.

The poor state of the "Prime Minister’s constituency" has also become a campaign issue. The condition of roads and other civic amenities is appalling, and the state of the public health system is no better. These deficiencies have been highlighted, more so because a large portion of the allocation for the improvement of civic amenities, made out of funds earmarked for members of Parliament, was not utilised and has lapsed.

The two other Opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), too have seized on this. Bhagawati Singh is the S.P. candidate and Ishar-ul-Haq, the BSP candidate.

The Congress(I), on its part, has taken on the BJP on every issue it has raised, including the one relating to Vajpayee’s "experience" and Sonia Gandhi’s "inexperience". Karan Singh claims that he himself is far more experienced than Vajpayee, having bec ome a Union Minister at the age of 36. Refuting the BJP’s claim that Sonia Gandhi was ill-equipped for governance, he asserts that Sonia Gandhi will govern wisely and well, and will have an able group of accomplished advisers from within the Congress(I) itself.

The intensity of the Congress(I)’s campaign has forced the BJP to rake up non-issues - Karan Singh’s status as an "outsider" to the constituency. The BJP has also levelled allegations relating to his role in the reported moves to provide greater autonomy to Jammu and Kashmir. The S.P. and the BSP have raised the issue of Karan Singh’s association with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as one of its founder-members. This campaign is not entirely without effect in a constituency where 24 per cent of the 16 lakh eligible voters are Muslims. Many leaders of Muslim organisations have demanded that Karan Singh clarify his position vis-a-vis the VHP; the Congress (I) candidate has denied any association with the Sangh Parivar organisation.

Undoubtedly, after Karan Singh entered the fray, the contest in Lucknow has become interesting; however, in the background of the Congress(I)’s performance in the 1998 election, it might not dramatically change the final outcome. The then Congress(I) can didate Ranjeet Singh finished fourth with 38,636 votes; illustratively, Vajpayee polled 4.31 lakh votes. The Congress(I) has miles to go, and Karan Singh’s candidature by itself is insufficient to spring electoral miracles.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 20, Sep. 25 - Oct. 08, 1999

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow-up of the site's activity RSS 2.0