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It’s Manmohan vs Advani
Congress and BJP are deliberately trying to project the upcoming polls as a direct fight between Manmohan Singh and LK Advani for the prime ministership on the lines of the US presidential polls
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 12
With stakes being so high, campaigning is becoming shriller in the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha with even sober and mature politicians like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani attacking each other like never before. As the din and bustle as well as the decibel level of electioneering reaches a feverish pitch, hardly a day passes when the two principal contenders for the nation’s top executive’s job do not hurl accusations at each other. The common man, who will decide their political future, curiously watches the unfolding of the political drama. It all started with the BJP leader constantly describing Manmohan Singh as a “weak” Prime Minister, who takes orders from the Congress President Sonia Gandhi. The nation needs a prime minister who can take decisions independently and is not guided by someone who was not accountable to the system of governance, he argued.

For quite some time, Manmohan Singh preferred to ignore Advani’s constant barbs but with the elections round the corner he decided to hit back with a vengeance.

The Prime Minister gave glimpses of his combative mood at the Congress manifesto release function at the AICC headquarters last month. With Sonia seated alongside, Manmohan Singh punctured Advani’s argument of being a weak Prime Minister and narrated the achievements of his government on different fronts. He also did not fail to recall the ‘dismal’ record of Advani as the home minister when the NDA was in power at the Centre.

Just when one thought the war of words between the two leaders had abated, the BJP leader sought to raise the pitch by asking the Prime Minister to participate in a TV debate with him. To this, Manmohan Singh’s reply was that he did not want to give Advani the stature of a prospective Prime Minister by taking him on in a TV debate.

Political analysts believe that the two main parties, the Congress and the BJP, are deliberately trying to project the upcoming polls as a direct fight between Manmohan Singh and Advani for the Prime Ministership, almost on the lines of the US presidential polls.

But both the Congress and the BJP are well aware that the Third Front could throw a spanner in their works. And with the ‘Yadav’ triumvirate of Lalu Prasad-Ram Vilas Paswan-Mulayam Singh coming together, top Congress functionaries are spending sleepless nights, realising that their so-called ‘Fourth Front’ will obviously hurt the secular vote bank in key states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The Third Front knows it all too well that it may disintegrate well before the outcome of the Lok Sabha elections is known, should it project anyone as its choice for the Prime Minister’s post. Therefore, it has kept the issue in abeyance. But everyone knows the prime ministerial ambitions of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati, AIADMK supremo Jayalalitha, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader N Chandrababu Naidu, Janata Dal (S) chief H D Deve Gowda. Interestingly, the CPM, which played a pivotal role in the formation of the Third Front, is not ruling out the Left parties’ participation in the government this time.

Even as they frequently announce their full faith in the leadership of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, all the three top Fourth Front leaders have made no bones about their prime ministerial ambitions.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) supreme Navin Patnaik, and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar have truly emerged as the enigmatic personalities of these elections.

One day Pawar shares the dais with Third Front leaders and the next day addresses an election meeting with Sonia Gandhi, indicating in no uncertain manner that he was ready to take a shot at prime ministership, should the polls throw up a hung Lok Sabha.

Navin Patnaik, a BJP associate for 11 years, took just 24 hours to shift from the extreme right to the extreme left. Nobody knows the way he will go after the elections.

As far as Nitish is concerned, he can expect a rich harvest in Bihar as a matter of right in view of all that he has done for the people of his state. Though appearing uncomfortable in the company of the saffron brigade because of its hardline ‘Hindutva’ policy, Nitish is also keeping everyone guessing on his post-poll moves.

But politicians of all hues agree that the elections will throw up many a surprise when votes are counted on May 16.

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