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Vajpayee Dismisses Speculation About Calling Early National Elections - 2003-12-04

In India, the party of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee looks set to win a majority of seats in three out of four state legislature elections. But Mr. Vajpayee has dismissed speculation that he would build on his party's victories by calling for early national elections.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, took an early lead in vote counting in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Roughly 52 million voters went to the polls Monday to elect state legislatures in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi. Results were being compiled Wednesday.

The BJP's main rival is the opposition Congress Party, which was expected to retain power in every state but Madhya Pradesh. But preliminary results indicate that the Congress Party will hold only Delhi.

Pran Chopra, with a New Delhi-based think-tank, the Center for Policy Research, says the Congress Party has only itself to blame for the defeat.

"The individual ministers have worked well, but the party as a whole has not been able to keep itself intact," he said.

The BJP has headed India's ruling coalition government since 1998 - and national elections are due by next October. Despite the victories this week, the prime minister has apparently ruled out calling early national elections.

The prime minister told reporters traveling with him to Nigeria for the meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government that there is still "one year" left before the national ballot.

Mr. Chopra says the BJP must be careful not to alienate India's vast rural population by campaigning on issues considered important to wealthier citizens, such as globalization and economic liberalization.

"The government will have to pay more attention to the fact that what looks like good economic performance as a whole is not seen to be so by large sectors of the electorate," he said.

The BJP and Congress Party will have another chance to vie for power ahead of national elections. India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh and the large southern state of Andra Pradesh will both hold elections in February.