Encouraged by a booming economy, recent state electoral gains and a faltering opposition, leaders of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday dropped hints they were keen to capitalise on the "feel good" factor.

"Early elections are 100% certain" said the BJP spokesman, Pramod Mahajan.

Elections were due in October, but they could now be held as early as April or May.

"Everybody in the country knows the elections… are around the corner," Mahajan said in the southern city of Hyderabad where the party's senior most leaders are meeting for a brainstorming session.

Cofident claims

In New Delhi, Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani said he was confident the Indian electorate would renew Vajpayee's five-year mandate.

"I have no doubt about that. Our government has given rise to a new climate in the country. The 21st century is certainly going to be India's century," Advani said.

A good monsoon has bolstered the economy and the ruling party is seeking to exploit it for its own electoral gains.

"Our government has given rise to a new climate in the country. The 21st century is certainly going to be India's century"

L K Advani,
Deputy Prime Minister



Foreign exchange reserves have exceeded $100 billion, the stock marking is booming and the economic growth rate is clocking an impressive 8%.

Heading a coalition of 20-odd parties, the BJP is seeking to be seen as a responsible party with the economic and leadership skills needed to reform India.

Last month, the BJP swept the rival Congress party from power in three Hindi heartland states, fighting on good governance and basic issues such as water and electricity.

The party is also pinning much of its electoral hopes on the thaw in ties with neighbouring Pakistan. The charismatic Vajpayee is being projected as an elder statesman and a visionary that the country needs to repair ties and carry it forward.

The opposition Congress, in contrast, is a house in disarray. Its leader – the Italian born Sonia Gandhi - is lagging well behind Vajpayee in opinion polls.